June 6, 2020

Thoughts on the Godhead — Part One

Montana“There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity … nothing will so magnify the whole soul of man … Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea …”—J.I. Packer


[The following story was originally intended as a brief intro, but is now expanded to be part one. If you don’t mind being taken for ride out West, we’ll get to spiritualizing in part two this afternoon.]

A few years ago, when our oldest daughter was newly married, we planned a family vacation and, for the first time, included someone who wasn’t born in … our son-in-law. The prospect put me under intense pressure. My husband had decided where we were going. The West had always been our happy place and we tried to get there every few years. Our own kids knew what to expect … mountains, big skies, simplicity and communing with nature. But suddenly I was faced with entertaining a new member, one whose biological family was accustomed to beach vacations and good restaurants. I have nothing against beaches and good restaurants, but our modi operandi are grueling road trips, meals out of the cooler and digs off the beaten path.

I went to work diligently planning the route, the stops, the accommodations and day trips in every direction from the cabin where we would stay. We would cram as much West into a week as we could and try to make sure our son-in-law loved it as much as we did by the time it was over.

On the way out, we made visits to several historic sites including the windswept, rattlesnake-infested hills where Custer made his last stand at the Battle of Little Big Horn. We met bison too close for comfort at Custer State Park and peered at the giant granite faces carved by dynamite into the side of Mount Rushmore. We locked our keys in the car in the Badlands and worried about the prospect of being eaten by wolves if a ranger didn’t show up to break into our car before sundown. He did.

Our stay in a cabin in Red Lodge, Montana was not without its perils either. We woke up to drink coffee on the back porch and listen to the sounds of creek waters crashing over its rock-strewn bed thirty yards away and noticed the yard moving. It was alive with dozens of snakes … apparently one price of admission to God’s country.

Later that morning, we encountered another treacherous consequence to exploration of the still Wild West when we started our trip over the scenic Bear Tooth Pass to Yellowstone Park. A young couple sat stunned and bloody at the side of the road with a dead deer half in and half out their shattered windshield. We stopped to offer help, but a sheriff arrived at the same time and waved us on. The switchbacks proved too much for my eldest daughter who was severely stricken with altitude sickness. We drove with the windows down despite the frigid air in the upper climes. My son-in-law faithfully deposited the up-chuck bags in bear-proof trash containers at every stop until the sickness wore off and we could finally have some fun. Opting to save Yellowstone for another day as we’d gotten off to a slow start, we veered off the Bear Tooth to a ranger station and asked for a map and guide to a family friendly hike. We worried mostly about bears, but encountered a moose instead. Moose are grumpy and dangerous too, so we gave it a wide berth and lost thirty minutes just waiting for it to finish grazing and move a safe distance from where we needed to pass. The older kids went farther up the trail to find a lake and my husband and I decided to head back to the car with our young daughter. She wasn’t up to the lengthy hike. Then we realized we’d left one of our two-way radios in a boulder field half a mile back. What to do? What to do? I left the two of them and ran back while they continued down the trail. Being alone gave me the creeps. I felt watched, whether by that moose or mountain lions or bears. I prayed the whole way and though I was afraid, I was also hyper conscious of being fully upon that Montana mountainside. I was experiencing the air, the pines, the rocks and the creatures I had seen and sensed around me. I could have read about it in a book, but here I was rewarded with a joy I’d driven seventeen hundred purposeful miles to find.

Fortunately, God protected us in his beautiful creation from our own ignorance and humanity that day and the days to follow.

Yellowstone the following day was fascinating, exhausting and somewhat concerning to me as I was wearing a red t-shirt and somehow had the notion that the buffalo ambling through parking lots and along the trails might charge me because of it. (The truth is that yes, they might charge, but it would be because we humans were invading their space and not because they were offended by my t-shirt.) We saw wolves, elk, a mother bear and her two cubs and several geysers which reminded us that the whole park is nestled in a caldera and was due for a mighty volcanic eruption between zero to one hundred thousand years from now. Coming back over the pass, my family stopped at a couple of snowfields and slid down on improvised sleds of black trash bags swatting through great clouds of giant mosquitoes. I took pictures and worried about starting an avalanche.

We survived that day of exploration too.

The next morning we drove to a river rafting launch site, strapped on life vests and sat through preliminary safety instruction about what to do if we fell overboard. I was assured the trip was family-rated, but almost decided to cancel when I realized I would be entrusting my eight-year-old daughter’s life to the crazy Australian guide who gripped her between his knees while steering us over rapids that threatened to wash us all out and down the river. At lunchtime, we stopped for cliff jumping … yes, cliff jumping. It was perfectly safe, I was told. “Just aim for the eddy and you won’t wash away.” One of us … okay, it was I … missed the eddy and had to be reeled in. A family of eagles watched as they circled above, probably hoping one of us would go belly up and supply them their dinner. I was pretty sure they’d eaten in the past as a result of such a scenario, but drowning and becoming eagle food didn’t scare me as much as the potential for a giardia infection from swallowing river water. On the upside, there’s no better way to explore a river than to be on it and to be in it … to flow and be one with it. The day was a satisfying thrill, especially after it was over and we all survived. I was quietly relaxing about my son-in-law who was having a good time and falling dead asleep on every return trip to the cabin.

Our final adventure was a mountain trail ride. For my family, this would be the piece de resistance as we are horse people and my husband channels John Wayne at every opportunity. As it turned out, fun for us was torture for my son-in-law who discovered that a combination of severe allergies both to horses and sagebrush would serve to swell his eyes shut and turn his face a fiery red. We high-tailed it to a tiny pharmacy that had exactly one bottle of expired Benadryl on its shelf. He drank enough to acquire a painless stupor and slept his way back to the cabin. I didn’t know if he would forgive me, but the swelling was all gone two hours later and I thanked God we had survived.

We headed for home the next day … exhausted and somewhat dampened in enthusiasm after the allergy debacle. I was done … spent of the energy of showing off as much of the vast western beauties to my kids and son-in-law as I could … and I had not even scratched the surface. Then my husband reminded me there was that dinosaur graveyard we’d missed on the way out. Sigh … Our return was by a different route and the dinosaurs were buried on the other side of the mountain range we were following, so I got out the map. Okay, we could get there, but it wouldn’t be by interstate. It would be secondary mountain roads over the range to our right. We took an exit in the middle of nowhere and started climbing, switching back again and again. The road turned to gravel and my husband said, “Are you sure this is way?”

I’m a very good navigator. Yes, I was sure.

We passed a cabin here and a cabin there, set far back from the washboard gravel. These were primitive abodes with no power or other visible utilities. My son-in-law mentioned what a far cry this vacation had been from the beach. I was starting to sweat.

At last, we emerged above the tree line and stopped just past a pair of snow gates lying open and broken at the side of the road as if no one ever drove up there to attend them anymore. The gravel had ended and we sat idling on what was now a red dirt road with the expansive view wide open before us. Such beauty. Such vastness. Such an endless, mountainous, meandering road. The red dirt track disappeared over a sharp drop and reappeared on the next rise. It kept disappearing and reappearing as far as the eye could see. For miles it wound through that mountain range, the red dirt frightening in its unpaved insufficiency. I glanced at the sun dubiously. The bottom was just touching the top of one of the mountains. “No, we are turning around,” I said.

From the back seat, my son-in-law exhaled, “Thank God.”

The weight of the dinosaur graveyard and the many millions of miles of unexplored West fell off me as we wound our way back down the mountain to find the interstate. It was the right thing to do at the time. We had reached our limit for climbing heights and plumbing depths and trekking the wild places. We had found our finiteness on that trip, but we also went places we had never gone and tried things we had never tried. We faced fears and learned things we hadn’t known. We grew in courage. We got stronger as a family. We stretched ourselves. Still …

We often talked about that red mountain dirt road, laughing about how crazy and scary it would have been to drive it at night, or God forbid, get caught on it in a sudden downpour and careen off a cliff into a rock-strewn valley. We talked and laughed about it and laughed and talked about it and pondered all its potential dangers … until we decided we wanted to go back. Less than twenty percent of roads in Wyoming are paved and only a small percentage of Wyoming is accessible by any road at all. If we wanted to know its secrets we would have to diligently search for them, however inaccessible they might be.

Eventually we did, though that is a story for another day.  Stretched from previous adventures and rested from living at the edge of our capacities, we contemplated and planned our next foray into the unknown. It would start with a walk among dinosaur bones and go on to many other explorations. Once again, satiated and spent, though having hardly delved into its mysteries, we would return home greater in our love and awe of a place that is only a blip in Creation … a bit like plunging into the Godhead’s deepest sea and rising breathless and almost drowned, but longing for more.




  1. This is what “Godhead” makes me think of:


    (Godhead Revisited?)

  2. Reminded me of this quote:

    Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
    there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
    When the soul lies down in that grass,
    the world is too full to talk about.
    Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.

    mevlana jelaluddin rumi – 13th century

  3. David Cornwell says

    Thank you Lisa. To join up a conversation about the Godhead with one about God’s own wonderful creation is to start a great adventure into the hardly knowable.

    And I’m thankful for the creative abilities God has given to you.

  4. Remind me never to go on vacation with you and your family.

    However, I am looking forward to Part 2.

  5. This was an awesome story, though exhausting…. Never ben out West yet (aside from busineess trips to Colorado and El Paso)> My wife won’t fly so it looks like we will drive, although seven kids in one van for that long… I will wait until some are older. I long to see Canyonlands and the arches in Utah and get out to Montana and Wyoming… but I could also feel for you when you were going back for your radio and wondering if a couger was going to eye you up as dinner…

    Very enjoyable read….

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > My wife won’t fly so it looks like we will drive, although seven kids in
      > one van for that long…

      That is what trains are for! There is lots of room and probably even other children.

      > I will wait until some are older. I long to see Canyonlands and the arches in
      > Utah and get out to Montana and Wyoming…

      The Southwest Chief, the Empire Builder, or the Southwest Chief will get you there. And from Williams, AZ there is a train to the Grand Canyon.

      It would be a fantastic experience for kids and you’d actually get to see the country from ground level.