2014 Changemakers in Colombia

The Ascent to Heaven

Posted by Randall Miller

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“In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way seemed lost.” – Dante

Two days ago, we reached the midpoint of our learning journey through Colombia and I find myself troubled, challenged, and deeply enriched by the beauty of the men, women, and children who have shared their life-stories, despairs, and hopes with us thus far.

The day began with an invitation from the leaders of an indigenous people in Makano (a name given by the Spanish Conquistadors) to make the ascent to “Heaven,” which their tradition holds is the home of their Creator God. To tell the truth, I think that if any of us had really understood what was lying in wait for us, we probably would have turned back.

Instead, we struggled up the path of a steep ravine, scrambling over large and small stones as we made our way through 90 degree heat in the midst of a humid forest. As we traversed the path, we quickly learned that the only way all of us would make it to ‘Heaven’ was if we helped each other. And so we cheered each other on and later pushed and prodded each other as we stumbled up the mountain. Any worries about maintaining our dignity were quickly forsaken as we scrabbled from rock to rock on all fours and became coated with a mixture of sweat and dust.

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What we first mistook as the gaining of our journey’s end proved to be only a few moments respite, as our indigenous hosts paused to “open the earth” and ask permission for us to continue on a path that plunged downward into a steep, rocky ravine. At the bottom of the ravine, having endured both physical and mental stressing our journey, we came upon a sacred text, a ‘book of origins,’ consisting of petroglyphs carved into living stone, which told of the world’s beginnings, humankind’s origins and the meaning and purpose of life itself.

I’m still thinking through all the lessons we learned during our ascent to heaven, but I’m most struck by the humbling experience of relearning about the limitations of the human body and the the need to rely on others to make my way forward. Near the end of his wondrous and strange retelling of the arduous journey of Psyche (the soul) to reunite with Eros (the Divine Lover), C.S. Lewis proclaims that “we will never see the face of God aright until we ourselves have faces.” What he means by this, at least in part, is that the more we can see our true reflections — in the beauty and cruelty of life, in the limitations of our aging bodies, and in the lives of those with whom we find deep solidarity, the closer we draw to Heaven.

Randall Miller