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So what do I make of the castle in the woods?  I had so many conflicting emotions that surrounded my hike.  The castle gave me focus to my walk, but I soon became nearly obsessed with the idea of the goal, then defeated.  I was both stubborn to continue and ready to give up.  I was impatient, elated, and bored all at once.

Over the Hill and through the Woods...

Well, I figure that this was my first literal Mountaintop Experience.  In church once, our pastor described mountaintop experiences as these spiritual highs whenever you felt closest to God.  The funny thing is that in the Bible, these divine encounters were always coupled with the most embarrassingly human reactions.  God appears to Moses on a mountain and gives him the Ten Commandments; but when Moses discovers the Israelites worshiping another god, he immediately throws down the tablets in a fit of rage and breaks them.  After all that work, God was gracious enough to get another set made.  Similarly, thousands of years later, Jesus meets with Elijah and Moses on a mountain; his follower Peter is overwhelmed by the momentous occasion and offers to build tents for the three of them.  Tents.  That’s like offering the President of the United States a free stay at a motel, even though he never even brought up the issue of lodging.

What I learned from that sermon was that humans can be pretty clumsy.  Even during our moments of epiphany or spiritual clarity, we still blunder through.  Sometimes we hate ourselves for it.  We want to be wise and elevated, but time and time again we just end up being awkward (I am so describing me right now).  But I think that’s the beauty of humanity.  Moses and Peter were extremely close to God, and despite all their mistakes, God used them to change the world (no exaggeration here).  God’s power shines clearest when our pride and talent don’t get in the way.

Often, spiritual mountain top experiences are like my literal one.  You push through life exhausted and not entirely sure what you’re looking for.  Even if you have a goal that you’re passionate about, you start to wonder whether it’s worth it.  When you finally accomplish that goal, you’re numb, relieved, and feel like you can take on anything.  You can see how you got to where you are and see where you are going; the painful things in your life fall into place or unexpected opportunities open up.  Maybe God is closer than you’ve ever felt him before.  But when we descend from that mountaintop, we start to forget what it was like.  Things grow ordinary again.  Seemingly pointless troubles resurface.  We immediately start wishing we could be back on that mountaintop and wishing we weren’t so fickle.

A view from Sausenburg's tower

A view from Sausenburg’s tower

But honestly, if I could have turned around right away and climbed that castle again, it wouldn’t have been as magical.  The effort would have been a few feet, and the memory of the first visit still fresh.  The mountaintop would have become mundane and expected.  In search for the sublime, we want to escape the long paths and simple valleys, but the everyday trials are where we develop the strength to find those castles and develop the appreciation for their rare beauty.   Success is so much more precious when it comes at a price.

A glimpse outside.

A glimpse outside.

So why didn’t I write about all this back when it actually happened?  Well, I needed more time to process it.  Finding the ruins was such a profound experience for me, and I wanted to do it justice.  But the more I thought about it, the less I could put into words what I was feeling.  So I put this story on the back burner, hoping that at the end of my stay in Germany I could look at everything with a new perspective.

And so I’m back to the beginning of this story: my reflection on journeys and destinations.  Without the castle in mind, I would not have journeyed as far as I did.  Without the difficult journey, I would not have appreciated the castle as much.

This lesson is even more important to me now.  This May, I accomplished my goal of graduating with a bachelor’s, and ever since I have been working full-time for a non-profit.  This past fall, I applied for English graduate programs, so I know my non-profit job is only temporary.  As a result, I get a little overwhelmed by the barrage of paper and the beige walls in which I can’t quite feel at home.  I keep thinking about the future.  I keep wondering where I’ll be in the fall, assuming a grad program accepts me at all.  I have no idea how it’ll work out; the only thing I do know for certain is that I won’t know until April if I’ve been accepted anywhere. 

Without a solid destination, I feel adrift, just like I first did when I finally reached the crest of the hill and wasn’t sure what I would be looking for in the dark tunnel of trees ahead.  But I need to stop the worrying.  Even though I don’t know my destination yet, God does.  And when he’s ready to reveal my next goal, I will be ready, because he has been preparing me for it all along.  In the meantime, I need to refocus on what I’m doing now and enjoy the journey, because after I’ve arrived at my destination, this journey will be closed to me.  It will be a finished chapter, and I will only be able to return to that path through memory.

An old guardian.

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