I found no solace in Capitol Reef. It was a beautiful place, with stunning moonlit vistas of the maze of canyons and mesas. Striking red dust and red rock were everywhere thrown into sharp contrast by unyielding light. But it was not a place of peace for me; I found no movement in my soul, no stirring inspiration, no deep insight.
Perhaps I lacked because the place was peaceful. Nature in my home is a nature of conflict. Though it was cold, the sky was still in Capitol Reef. My memories of nature are of the sky riven with flashing light; midnight blue, celestial horizons afire with electric brilliance all across my field of vision, rippling over the plains. The scene from a distance is beautiful and majestic; the scene from within the storm is stirring, gripping, and invigorating. When the rain pours down in waves that roll across the ground; when you can see the thickness of the rain break towards you; when your bones and blood shake with the cacophony of thunder; when, because of the rain you can only see blinding flashes all around you: then nature speaks, then, I feel something in my soul.
Friends from more peaceful parts of the country mistakenly think I feel fear. Not at all. After my first tornado in a tent, I could not feel fear of storms anymore; if I die, I’ll die, and that’s the end of it. No. The storms of my home are a witness of God moving in His majesty and power. A silent being? See the Missouri in flood; watch a flash of light crack the sky down to the earth; hear His voice in booming tones roll across the plains. Even I cannot mistake that.
But in Capitol Reef, He was silent. Thankfully, the God of nature speaks more than in thunderstorms; the tempests of the heart and mind seldom yield such satisfying or cathartic external displays. But there was no communication during that trip.
I knew why He was silent – I had gone into the desert. For reasons I do not know, my pursuits of the opposite sex are not currently approved by Heaven. There I was, in blatant disregard of such a mandate, pursuing a classmate in ways that, in other climes, would be perfectly acceptable. Even the desert dwellers of my company could detect no improper behavior; by every external standard, especially the standards of the Church, I should have been in the right. There was water in Capitol Reef; but I could not drink. I had gone into the desert, and until it rained, I could not slake my thirst.
When I got back home, back into a snowstorm, I called the girl I had been pursuing. We decided to just be friends, and I had glass of water. The following Sunday, as I partook of the Sacrament – water, in our church – God spoke; great, drifting flakes outside the window, springs of joy in my soul.
Nature cannot provide what God withholds. I could only be thirsty in Capitol Reef.
Mormon culture preaches a domestic ideal – celestial marriage - that promises personal happiness. As I stated earlier, by divine decree I am closed out of such an ideal at the moment. Not by lack of effort- mind you. I have on countless occasions thrown myself down from grace, and found a willing partner on the ground who came up to meet me in the air … until we struck each other, and nearly broke from the impact; both of us returning, charred, to our respective elements – she to the friendly earth, and I to thunderheads in the sky.
Not all of those meetings have been wicked; Heaven opened pathways for me to travel through, else I could not have gone so far as I did. I have loved, and have been loved, with an electric intensity and a pure light that I thought were the ultimate expressions of my soul. But I was wrong. Heaven never finished my course; there was no final connection; Heaven did not give the third flash linking sky and ground.
But lightning is far more than romance, and God does not speak to me in stillness, but in conflict. Though I struggle even now to admit it, I have not been called to lakes in the desert, or to smooth, flowing rivers that gently and sleepily roll into the sea. I was born, and I live, and I will die, in storms.
Sparks are upper-atmospheric bolts of energy that travel great distances across the magnetosphere before discharging in the sky below. Before I admitted my call, I wondered if I could stay low to the ground, stay close to my lightning rods, and have Heaven accommodate me. But the motion of charged particles is not determined by the particles themselves, or by the energy transferring between them. Chaos theory teaches that random chance picks the path of a lightning bolt; that random chance determines the journey of a spark. Sailors witnessing Saint Elmo’s Fire attribute it to God.
St. Elmo’s is the name of an electric fire that dances blue and green over masts but does not consume them. Like a bow in the heavens, or the shimmering greens and blues of skies over northern seas, this beacon in the rage of storm is a witness that God is on the ship; that God is nearby, that God is watching and with sailors in their moment of need. If God is on the ship – showing forth His power in the storm before He commands it to be still – then He is also in the sky. And if He is, then my paths across the upper atmosphere to lands and climes I do not yet know are Heaven opening a way.
I had hoped to touch down here; to be carried into a home, to charge lightbulbs and ovens and baby monitors. But that is, apparently, not my way. God doesn’t call me to the stillness; he calls me to where air is rent by rain.
Lightning is a call from Heaven. The terror is in striking, not in being struck. The beauty is Heaven flashing through you, not something that others observe. The effect – the thunder that ripples outward for miles, the light that blinds and illuminates – is God moving in His majesty and power, not chance. And I feel the pull of charged particles upward, away from here.