A Religious Experience

We wanted to know: What do Coloradans believe?

April 2012

Sermon in the Mountains

When geography serves as a conduit to God.

As a teenager, I couldn’t always hear God. Maybe I wasn’t listening—or looking hard enough. At 16, what I was searching for was adventure. I wanted to see what the world outside my Chicago suburb had to offer; I wanted to discover new places and experience new things. But I never expected to find faith during those explorations.

The summer before my junior year of high school, Young Life (a faith-based nonprofit that leads youth groups) was offering a weeklong backpacking trip into the Colorado wilderness. The overt mission of the trip was to provide us with some quiet time, a respite from the everyday distractions of being 16. The implied hope was that some altitude would shorten our distance from the man upstairs. The true objective of the trip wasn’t at the forefront of my mind; instead my focus was set on going and doing and exploring.

I didn’t feel God’s presence on my first day in the Rockies—my 45-pound pack weighed too heavily on my mind (and my back). Instead, He whispered to me in the following days as I padded along trails, tried to fall asleep in the silent darkness of night, and watched the most electrifying lightning storm of my life. His craftsmanship—the grandeur of the mountains and the beauty of a trickling stream—was on display everywhere I looked. For the first time in my life, God presented Himself in an approachable way. Out there, I could talk to God as opposed to at God.

One faith-focused week in the woods and I was hooked. Sitting beside an alpine lake at 10,000 feet, I found the same comfort many find during Sunday service. That made returning to Illinois a problem: Instead of feeling His presence in a sunset or in the thin air of a mountain peak, all I could see and hear were buildings, cars, and people. How was I supposed to find God in Chicago?

Before I even had my high school diploma in hand, I plotted my move west to Wyoming. Many call the state God’s Country, and for good reason. The wide-open spaces, soaring mountains, and lack of crowds speak to those who hear our higher power in the wind instead of in chapel hymns. After all, it’s hard not to imagine there is a god when you see how beautiful Medicine Bow Peak is at midnight, bathed in moonlight and surrounded by millions of stars.

I lived in Wyoming for five years, and I talked to God every day. But life changes, and I had to return to city life. As I prepared to move to Denver, the thought of buildings, people, and traffic made me claustrophobic. But my worries were unfounded; Denver was just another place to explore. I settled in and realized I can see the foothills from my backyard. I can view a sunset on my way home from work. And when I crave some alone time with God, a short drive into the hills west of Evergreen helps me hear His voice a little clearer. —Lindsey R. McKissick