I conceive there is a traditionall Magicke, not learned immediately from the Devill, but at second hand from his schollers — Sir Thomas Browne
They stood still as statues in the field, periodically interrupting their stillness to graze on the grass. We gazed and gossiped about the deer, who ignored our presence, despite our rudeness, despite our noise. Like Tolkien’s dwarves we bumbled our way along the path, crunching sticks and leaves, speaking freely and openly. We met with an old bridge that swayed with the ease of any swing. Boys cannot help but make such bridges toss and turn, much to the dismay of our female companion, who cursed our gender’s existence. Though our initial course was covered with trees, the path slowly led to an open field — and as the trees gave way to tall grass plains, our elevation increased slightly.
A contrast is discovered by man when atop a hill. For the cool breeze of an evening in spring soon becomes billowing gusts, reminding one of the coldness of winter. In the ease of prosperity, the tempest surrounding our senses do not touch our soul, and we are not affected by life’s inconveniences; but when prosperity melts into poverty, the slightest of winds wounds us through and through, and slight frustrations boil into failures. Atop that hill, with no buildings to act as buttresses or trees to trap the winds, my compatriots and I adopted that aforementioned posture of our beastly brethren, despite our efforts to move with vigor, despite unwillingness to keep to that hill. We trudged on under grey clouds and acknowledged that a sunrise from that spot would be a beautiful sight, so we made a commitment to watch the sun sink and die its daily death from that spot as we took comfort from the winds in the valley below.
The few deer we had noticed before had multiplied. My fellow pilgrim must have counted at least twenty standing solemnly in the open field. We took to our car and drove past another filled with perhaps more deer than the previous field. It is very rare for modern man to see one or two deer, let alone fifty, but all the while on our journey home, we saw them out in droves, standing like statues — all, that is, except the three who courageously crossed the street in front of our car careening down the road.
Two days later my two companions and I took to that same hill, this time with decided purpose and initiative. We walked as a unified group until my friend got it into his head that the sun would sink before our slow pace could carry us to the hill’s summit. He shot off like a boy’s rocket, skipping and striding with the grace of a gazelle being chased by a lion in the midst of lent, starved and salivating for a meaty meal. My eyes grew large with admiration of such energy, and I turned to my other companion and told her of that feeling. We gazed and gawked, and I asked for permission to chase my friend and overtake him — for a man should never leave a woman alone without at least asking for permission, and even if given the “okay” to do so, he should weigh that decision with much gravity. For it is often the case with the female gender that “yes” can mean “no” and “no” can mean “yes.” But it is not for man to know one way or the other. The whole theory of it all is to keep the men forever guessing and eternally bewildered, until they are so turned around and spun in circles, that up becomes down and yes becomes no. And it just so happens that when they reach this point of understanding with the female gender, that that sweet gift from God decides that all along “yes” actually did mean “yes” and “no” could certainly not refer to anything else but “no.” This apparent shifting of values with the female gender should never be brought to their attention by any male, for doing so would, and has, resulted in far more pain and suffering than mere spinning in circles could ever cause.
Nevertheless, I took my friend’s word as she gave me the go ahead. I bolted after that summit like a boy shoots for the exit sign on the last day of school. About five strides in, however, I fully realized I was not the young boy I once was. My lungs began pleading my legs to let up the madness I was putting them through; my legs told my brain to give it up completely; my brain told my heart it wasn’t worth it; my heart told my soul I was running out of steam. Despite all these accusations flung at my soul, it remained steadfast in its pursuit. As I neared the summit, the climb got steeper with each stride, and reaching my friend grew into an impossibility; but to turn back now would end in utter humiliation, so my pride pressed me forward with the vigor with which my lungs pressed against my chest. As if they sought release from the prison of my body, they made their plight known to the world as I heaved with a tremendous amount of a pain — growing in volume just as the hill grew in its steepness. and then I saw it; my faith became sight; the dim mirror became clear vision; the form vanished and made way for the ideal reality; and I placed my hands on my knees and huffed and puffed in victory, sure I had met my end.
That evening, after my lungs came back to earth and my friend had made her slower, yet much more calculated ascent up the hill, we watched the sunset. Layers of clouds were strewn across the horizon, and at times the sun merely proved its presence by shooting forth its rays from the other side. It never ceases to amaze me how different the sky can appear from various angles throughout the day. No two sunsets are ever alike; yet all sunsets are similar.
As we watched we decided to read a few Psalms which spoke of the sun; the strong man in the sky had nearly run his course. There is nothing to be said about a sunset; there is not enough which could be said about a sunset. But if anything could be said of it, it is that they are not enough. A man eats until he is full; he writes until his mind is satisfied; he laughs until he’s no longer amused; he cries until he is amused. But he merely watches sunsets until the next sunset. Like the cyclical nature of the sun, so man’s desire for beauty is never satisfied. He constantly wants and seeks more beauty; and when he has discovered more beauty, it only leaves him wanting more. His inability to be satisfied suggests a higher, purer beauty which his eyes cannot see, nor his mind comprehend.
This past week that same friend who ran up the hill like a glorious gazelle reminded me of a passage we had recently read in Plato’s Phaedrus. Plato argued that when the lover sees beauty he is enamored by it because it reminds him of true reality — a reality he cannot currently get to. CS Lewis spoke of a similar idea when he argued that longings which cannot be satisfied on this earth suggest we are made for a different world. We live our lives running from toy to toy, constantly and forever longing to fill a joy that can never be satisfied with the transient things of the earth. So as we descended that hill for the night and the evening chill began to slowly overtake us, none of us felt the satisfaction of a sunset — as deer pant for streams of water, so our souls panted for God, souls that will press on in their earthly pilgrimage until they lay rest on Mt. Zion.