The Canyons Within Us

It was a Thursday evening when I pulled up to the Grand Canyon for the first time, the sun just setting over the rim.

As I walked down onto an overlook and soaked in the awe-inspiring beauty of this rocky landscape, I felt overwhelmed with a sense of my own littleness in the midst of something much greater; I breathed in the presence of God in the still desert air.

Inspired, I pulled off my Rosary bracelet and began running the beads through my hand. Thursday means Luminous Mysteries: the Baptism of the Lord. Reflecting on that moment long ago in the Jordan River, I looked down at what the mighty little Colorado River had wrought.

Throughout the world, the power of water washes over the earth and wears down its edges; it guts out a gaping hole in the landscape, rips the rocks and mountains right out of their places and carries them away, dissolves them into a memory.

Christ who was more powerful even than the water submitted Himself to its power, not for His sake but for our own. For when He lowered Himself into the Jordan River and allowed the powerful streams to wash over Him, He broke the mold. His act imbued the water with a much greater power, a much greater role in the world.

For millennia, water had been shaping the earth and fostering life, gently sculpting dramatic landscapes through the slow passage of time and quenching the thirst of generations upon generations. It came from God and was an integral part of creation. And now that God Himself—who was stronger than the water He created—submitted Himself to it by His own choice through His Baptism in the Jordan, the water, when it is invoked in His name, has the power to shape men’s hearts and nourish new life within us, to quench the deep thirst within our souls and wash away the dust inside. It molds us in a long, slow, painful process, in which our sin and pride are gradually and lovingly stripped away like layers of rock to reveal breathtaking canyons underneath.

It seems incredible that such large masses of hardened rock could be softened and overtaken by the little river at its core, but love is always more powerful than sin.

And what is left behind when our sin is stripped away? We are left open, vulnerable, with wide, open spaces taking the place of the solid ground we once clung to, laying aside our own selfish plans and wants in exchange for the wide unknowns, for adventure, for the risk of following God’s will without seeing the entirety of the path ahead. And in this broken, raw, carved-out state, we become bathed in His mesmerizing beauty; we are far more beautiful than we ever could have been without His flowing grace. Our emptiness is more beautiful than our strength.

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We each carry canyons within us; they point to a gaping need that can only be filled by God’s love.

That day at the Grand Canyon, I was at the beginning of a long journey: a cross-country move from California to New York. I was taking a leap of faith in pursuing something new, and while I hoped that I would land on steady ground, I was very much still up in the air.

That in-between place required me to be patient and trust in God even when I couldn’t see or understand how things would work out. I was giving up a sense of security for something greater: to follow the path He was laying out for me. He was carving it out as I went, so that there were only a few steps ahead within my view, and He was carving me out, too, sculpting me more and more into who He created me to be. It was far from an easy process, this emptying of self, but it was leading me towards where I needed to be.

He meets us right in the middle of that ache, that wide-open longing for fulfillment, and while we are there, He brings out new shades of beauty within us. His light shines upon the ridges and rocks that we bear to create sunsets more stunning than we could have imagined.

his light

Erin Cain is a twenty-something living in New York City, working in publishing, drinking lots of Earl Grey tea, and attempting to grow in virtue and love.

photo by Corynne Olivia

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