Micah warned me not to eat the Brie. I ignored him, opening our cooler. A wave of pungent oozing cheese filled the cabin of our Toyota Matrix. We had purchased the cheese the day before. After a hike to the top of New Mexico's Atalaya Mountain, we assembled an indulgent picnic at Trader Joe's. Then we took the picnic back to our campsite where we reclined in lawn chairs surrounded by piñon pines. As the sun set, Micah built a fire and I read Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman by flashlight. I consider it one of the most heavenly evenings of my life.
"I'm telling you, you shouldn't eat the Brie. It's been twenty-four hours since it was last refrigerated."
"I'm not letting it go to waste!"
And so I tucked in.
The rest of our drive home from Santa Fe was uneventful. I reclined in the passenger seat, full of contentment and French cheese. It wasn't until the next day (and the three following days) that I felt the full weight, and gastrointestinal trauma, of my mistake.
Dairy and I have always had a fraught relationship. When I was a pastor in Wisconsin, I used to take a yogurt to work with me everyday. I kept it in a black leather bag, tucked between books and papers, until the afternoon when I would pull it out for a snack. I referenced this fact to Micah during the Brie incident as justification that I had eaten unrefrigerated dairy countless times and never suffered any consequences.
A feeling of horror comes over me when I recall this memory. Not the gastrointestinal trauma, but the fact I felt there weren't enough minutes in the day to walk my yogurt downstairs to the church refrigerator. E-mails had to be answered, phone calls returned, hospital visits made, and sermons written. It's a morbid sense of efficiency and economy that leads one to cut out necessities, like refrigeration, in the name of saving time.
I'm not alone. When Micah and I reached the top of Atalaya Mountain, we came upon two young men sitting on boulders. They appeared to be in a state of contemplation, moved by the beauty laid out before them. Micah and I were inspired by their posture of reverence and found nearby boulders. It was then that we heard it, the familiar "Ping" of a text message. The young men hadn't been taking in the view, but were texting back and forth. It's a morbid sense of efficiency and economy that leads one to cut out necessities, like the view from the top of a mountain or an old-fashioned-face-to-face conversation, in the name of saving time.
The beauty of nature is that she does not care about our schedules. Nor does she value the things we believe must be done so we can feel good about ourselves. All the things that press for our attention are fleeting in her presence. "If we wish a vision from Nature, we must listen to her voice, hear her language," writes Michael P. Cohen in his book on John Muir. We listen for her voice because she reminds us what we often forget: we will not be saved by efficiency or economy, but in those moments of reverence that captivate our hearts and feed our souls. Camp fires and mountain tops are reliable sources of reverence, so are good books and an afternoon spent creating something from our imaginations. We stand in awe (or recline in lawn chairs) and behold the beauty before us.