WHO SHALL ASCEND
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Through much of my life, I have experienced a particular peace while hiking alone, often to the top of a particular hill or ridge. As a child growing up in the flat Midwest, I substituted a tall birch in the forest behind the family home. The tree lifted me and offered a broader perspective. I returned to the birch as an adult, but it had fallen. Nonetheless, I thanked it and stood in its presence.
The pattern of seeking the high ground deepened after my wife and I retired to Santa Fe. After bushwacking through brush or scrambling over rock to reach a particular ridge, I frequently discovered a sacred circle constructed of stone. Someone had been there before me and had recognized the experience of being there as holy. Here I have felt one with all that surrounds me, the circle proclaims. A particular circle (or hoop) may have been constructed two weeks ago or two centuries ago. It makes little difference; to be present on that ridge is to participate in an ancient tradition.
I recall Annie Dillard’s restatement of Psalm 24:
Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place? There is no one but us. There is no one to send, nor a clean hand, nor a pure heart on the face of the earth, nor in the earth, but only us, a generation comforting ourselves with the notion that we have come at an awkward time, that our innocent fathers are all dead—as if innocence had ever been.... But there is no one but us. There never has been.
One doesn't earn a place on the hill the same way one earns a Nobel Prize or the title of Arch-bishop of Canterbury. On the hill of the Lord, each life has absolute value; there is no metric. One arrives by opening to a primal cosmology, that life is blessing and blessing is life. Each life. All life.
I have fallen short in many ways...and, despite greater awareness, I continue to fall short, yet I have also ascended hills both physical and metaphorical. Each hill, like each valley, each coast, and each prairie, is the holy place. In this series, photographs of hills, mesas, and mountains are paired with portraits of imperfect people who have also ascended their own holy places. The high-resolution landscapes are 36 inches wide and 11½ inches high; the portraits are 11½ inches square; each is printed on Palo Duro soft gloss rag paper. Panoramas and portraits are designed to be displayed side by side; they are displayed vertically here because of limited screen width.