The Rock

May 26th 2013


The Rock

There's a long mountain ridge across the valley from our house. A little to the south of the summit stands a solitary rock. From far away, it looks as small as a lone tooth in an old man’s open mouth.

One day I decided to walk to the rock. First I drove for a good half hour, the narrow road getting steeper all the time, as the hairpin bends snaked up the dense forested slopes of the mountain. Then, when the road finally petered out I, left the car on the grass where narrow footpath took over. After a short brisk climb, I found myself at the southern end of the ridge. The wide valley where we live was spread out below me. On the far side, to the west, another long wooded crest rose up out of the haze. Turning to the north I could see the craggy summit of le Grand Colombier, the highest mountain in the southern massif of the Jura and there, nestling a little below the summit, was the rock.

At my feet was a wide alpine meadow which had to be crossed. We can see it from our house, but what I’d imagined would be nice springy green turf bore as little resemblence to that as the vast jumble of arctic sea ice does to a skating rink. 

As I set off across the meadow I realised that the only way to do it was to literally leap from one rough grassy tussock to another, trying, not always successfully, to avoid falling into the deep ruts and holes that were hiding between the clumps of grass. Short springy turf, indeed! I had plenty of time to reflect on my false assumption. It had been based on memories of the smooth sheep-cropped cover of the North Downs, the gently rolling hills of the 'Garden of England' where I spent most of my life before coming to France. 

How wrong one can be. These pastures had been thoroughly ploughed up by the heavy, saucer-sized hooves of cattle, and then further undermined by tunnelling field voles. How I reached the beech woods beyond without breaking a leg or twisting an ankle, I do not know, but eventually, I got there.

Hot and decidedly bothered, I stepped gratefully into the cool shade of the wood. Over my head was a delightful canopy of fresh green leaves… Ah, the beech woods of the North Downs, huge graceful trees, standing on a smooth carpet of leaf litter amid a mass of bluebells… Once I’d caught my breath I turned, and began to fight my way through the tangle of twisted, dwarf-like trees that had somehow found root in the sparse earth between chaotic heaps of boulders.

After a while I realised that I could see light beyond the tree trunks. I pushed on: the end was in sight. Suddenly I was out of the woods. It took me a moment to realise that I was face-to-face, no, nose-to-nose with a solid wall of limestone. The incredible whiteness of the rock reflected the glare of the sun and the light was almost blinding. I craned my neck upwards, and there was rock. I peered to either side, and there was rock. As far as the eye could see, there was rock.

The words of a song came to my lips: “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, lead me to Jesus’ feet…”

How limited our vision can be when we look at our objective from far away. It is impossible to appreciate the scale, the grandeur, the detail and the true nature of our destination until we actually get there, until we lay our hands upon it.

When first we plan our route, in the comfort of our living rooms, we often make the mistake of referencing the unknown with the known, that which lies ahead with that which lies behind. We can’t imagine the actual difficulties we’ll have to face along the way. Perhaps it’s just as well. We might not have the courage to start the journey.

Ephesians 3:18: “I pray that you may grasp how long, how high, how wide and how deep is the love of Jesus for you.