The Secret Law of the Sagebrush

It’s a scramble up the mountain behind our house. There are no well scouted-out switch-backs for measured steps. The path just heads straight up through knee deep sagebrush, and then turns to loose gravel past various outcroppings of granite. I suppose since there is no great variation along the short climb to the top, I tend to take it at a pace that is rather too quick. I am grateful that finally the steep and rocky trail twists a bit through a thick and ancient grove of Ponderosas. I rest and breathe under the shade of a gnarled pine tree. It is a friend. Then I find the last ascent to the saddle and the quick jaunt up to the summit.

These last final steps are precarious.The rocks are loose and there are few footholds. I have learned not to trust just any rock, that presumptively masquerades as a sure foundation. They are liable to cascade downwards at a rate I choose not to follow. So I look for something more secure, something deeply entrenched, with roots embedded in the mountain. The ponderosas are behind me now, and only boulders above, but the sagebrush clings to the path in a way that invites my trust. I climb upwards, using the strength and woody texture of the shrub to give me a little traction. In the minute I crush it to move higher to the next, I recognize its magnificence. Its pungent and earthy aroma fills my senses, and what I breathe is closer to power than most things I see touted as such in my concrete world.

Here is it’s power. It affirms its strength by giving it away. The shrub is not less, because it let me step on it, even crush it. Quite the opposite. It is more. It can be bent, twisted, pressed down upon, and still it does not become uprooted. In its low and ignoble position, it upholds the rocks and mountainside, not to mention, the weary footsteps of unthinking travelers, who casually trample by. Its identity is amplified, even in its humility. The sage’s exhaled fragrance rises up like an anthem of strength – evergreen, robust, immovable – not overcome, but ever more alive. I like that. I think this is a law in life that is true. But we don’t hear much about that anymore.

I scramble up that last hundred feet, greet the great majesty of the mountaintops, overlook what might as well be the whole world, thinking all the time about the secret law of the sage’s grace and power. I wonder, too, what that might look like in my life.

Jesus said, “If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you will find both yourself and me.”

Matthew 10:39  

– from The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson