A few years ago my husband and I ran a retreat for adults in Aspen, Colorado. The days were divided between Torah learning and outdoor activities. And although I tend to think of outdoor activities as picnics on the patio, I was forced to participate in some more vigorous ones.
One afternoon we were scheduled to go hot air ballooning. Now I am, shall we say, not fond of heights. But I was one of the leaders of this retreat. I had to set an example. I had to go. My husband doesn't have a problem with heights but he seems to have had other anxieties since he insisted that we take separate balloons (we never fly in separate planes!).
And so we divided into groups, got into the basket beneath the balloon and prepared for take off.
Surprisingly, hot air ballooning is not at all frightening or anxiety provoking. It's a gentle rise and a slow drift over the underlying land (The greatest risk may actually be boredom – did I mention it's a slow drift?)
But mainly, it is totally awesome (not in the teenage sense).
One of the early Russian cosmonauts is infamously quoted as having reputedly said that he flew over the whole earth and didn't see God anywhere.
That's funny because as we rode over Aspen, I saw God everywhere -- in the rolling Colorado River, in the majestic green mountains, in the flower-dotted meadows. It was a perspective available no other way. And even though the intention was purely fun, it was actually a spiritual experience -- a moment of appreciation of the beauty of the world the Almighty has created and an opportunity to connect to His grandeur.
Even the ‘relaxed' pace of the ride was gift. It allowed us to stop and look, to really take it all in. We couldn't get off, there was no where else to go. There were no blackberries, Iphones, TV screens, coffee shops….it was a rare opportunity. We drifted, we watched, we marveled.
I would never have chosen hot air ballooning as an activity on my own. I prefer my feet on solid ground. I had no real desire to participate. But the Almighty had other plans, a special treat in store.
I was compelled to lift above my fears and desires so that I could fulfill my appropriate role in the group.
And in so doing I was literally lifted above the world, above our mundane cares and concerns into the beauty and transcendence of the Almighty.
Okay, maybe the teenage vernacular is correct. Man, it was awesome.