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Hikers at SabinoIn an article I read in today’s Caliente in the Arizona Daily Star, Kathleen Allen began, “As the days get hotter, we Tucsonans look forward to the fall.” As members of St. Philip’s In The Hills prepare their fall calendars, I recommend that you consider adding a ‘St. Philips In The Hills Hike’ to your agenda.

I was out of town attending my new granddaughter’s christening when the first hike was scheduled in Catalina State Park. Since our new home is located near Sabino Canyon, I walk the Sabino Tram Road six days a week, weather and heat index permitting. Although my partner and I have hiked Tucson trails in the past, I was a bit reluctant to veer alone from the Tram Road onto trails along the way. Therefore, I was determined to become a participant in the second hike in Sabino Canyon this past May, and what a blessing making that happen was for me.

A St. Philips In The Hills Hike is a new activity inspired by parishioner Sam McClung and supported by the Rev. Vicki Hesse.

To prepare us, Sam identified a route that was accessible by all participants and was there to offer advice and suggestions about proper hiking attire and demeanor.

The Hike was entitled “Mindful Movement,” and was based on the goals of deepening our relationships with each other and making a spiritual connection with nature. At the beginning of the hike we followed the Sabino Canyon Tram Road to the Rattlesnake Trail. Sam calmed my thoughts about the name of the trail, telling me he has seen very few rattlesnakes on his many hikes through the mountains that surround Tucson. He also assured me that the snakes want very little to do with hikers. It was a lovely spring morning and the blue skies were virtually cloudless making the beauty of the surrounding Sonoran Desert quite beautiful.

After ten minutes on the trail, I discovered what makes a St. Philip’s In The Hills Hike unique and spiritual. We stopped where a group of Paloverde trees provided some shade, and Vicki read from a wonderful book of poetry about appreciating the beauty of your surroundings when out of doors. This was followed by a period of meditation where she coached us to truly become involved with our surroundings, noting what we could see, hear, taste, smell, feel, touch, and sense spatially. We were allowed a period of time to note these things before a discussion of what we observed. Each of us found ourselves really noting the nature of our desert above and beyond what we observed before entering the trail. This stop closed with another reading about observing and interacting with nature.

There were three other stops as we followed the trail back to the Tram Road. Each stop began with another reading followed by an activity that encouraged us to engage with nature in a different way:

  1. Triangulating our location with our spirituality and our inner journey through life. This activity enabled us to examine the path of our inner journey, our current location along that path, and where we were heading next. Expanding the trajectory of that journey to appreciate the beauty of things around us added a new dimension to each of our individual agendas and road maps.
  2. Stop two encouraged resting in silence and peace for fifteen minutes. An outcome of this silence made us realize that the tension we hold in our everyday lives often allows little time for finding “sacred silence” in our world. We walked away from this stop realizing the joy of making time for this to happen, possibly while resting in the solitude of natural surroundings.
  3. The final stop encouraged us to reflect and tell our stories of the experiences during the hike. These reflections were channeled with questions such as “How do you relate to God in nature compared to God in the church?” and “What makes space sacred?

When we exited the trail to the Tram Road again, we observed each other much differently than we did when we began the hike. As we moved along the trail during the hike, we changed the person we walked and visited with several times. During the stops and the discussions led by Sam and Vicki, we were able to look deeper into the character and person of each other. As we walked back to a wonderful “Fingerfood-Luck-Lunch” and enjoyed the shade and sustenance, we realized we accomplished the first goal of “deepening our relationships with each other.”

On a later hike, I attempted to travel the Rattlesnake Trail alone. The trail is well marked, but at one point the trail became much steeper and more demanding than before. Eventually I found myself at the top of a mini-mountain looking down at the beauty in the wash below. It was then that I realized that Sam McClung must have taken a turn that I missed, to make the May 11 hike less strenuous for the group. I add this only to assure those of you who might consider a St. Philips In The Hills Hike in the fall, that under the supportive guidance of Sam, you are safe.

What about that second goal of the May 11th Hike, “Making a spiritual connection with nature.” At one point on that hike, I told Vicki that I had joined the hike for exercise, not realizing it would become a religious event that broadened my life and my appreciation of nature. She responded, “You’re also getting spiritual exercise.”

I must admit that experiencing a spiritual connection with nature did happen during the hike, but I appreciate that connection even more when I do my six-day-a-week powerwalk though Sabino Canyon. I have found a space I could make a “sacred space” halfway though my walk up the Tram Road. Each day, I stop there to rest and refresh myself with water, and reflect on how I connected with nature during the first half of my walk. Then I plan how I would organize my thinking to make a deeper connection on the second half. While in that place I attempt to make it sacred by practicing some of the mindful thinking that occurred during the May hike.

So that’s it, fellow St. Philippians, my take on another blessing of being a member of this church. Hikes start again in September. These “spiritual exercises” can provide ways to help us broaden and deepen our spiritual journeys, bringing us closer to living the life that God desires of us. Come join us!!!!!

—Joe Yukish

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