Yellowstone - A Place To Worship
Yellowstone – A Place To Worship
Yellowstone National Park is my favorite national park and it’s also the very first national park. In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a declaration that set it aside as a public park for the benefit of the people. Since that time, Americans like me have been finding their way to Yellowstone to relax, recreate, and worship.
Native Americans have always known about the power and beauty of Yellowstone and have called it home for over 11,000 years. Reports that they avoided it due to fear of the mysterious gurglings and gushes are only myths. The area is rich with heritage of these ancient civilizations.
We see evidence that the animals that live there now, like bison, antelope, elk, and coyotes, have lived there since the end of the ice age. Other animals, like the camel and sloth, once roamed the lands of Yellowstone, but disappeared as the climate changed. Early European explorers visited and reported a place “where hell literally bubbled up to the surface of the earth” but no one believed them.
I’ve been to Yellowstone many times and every time, it’s the same. The night before, I can hardly sleep with anticipation. I study the map, trying to pick select from the many scenic ways to make the trek into and around Yellowstone. Driving the magnificent entry roads whets the appetite for the splendor to come.
Perhaps the reason I love Yellowstone so much is that it represents many of the facets of my intimate, glorious, and sometimes tumultuous relationship with God.
When I pull into Old Faithful, confident he will erupt about every 91 minutes, I am reminded of the faithfulness of God. Hearing the awestruck gasps of the crowd as Old Faithful goes higher and higher is a testimony to a God of wonder. A visit to Old Faithful is a praise service to the glory of God.
Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His loving kindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; NASU
The bubbling, swirling, steaming clear hot pools represent the turmoil I get in when I lose my focus on God. Yes, like the pools, the way to God remains crystal clear, but my own turmoil bubbles to the top and clouds my vision, making me unable to see.
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, and I am not at rest, but turmoil comes. NASU
The unpredictable Steamboat Geyser reminds me that God’s ways and instructions are often unpredictable, but always magnificent. The giant yellow stones that line the roadways, cliffs, and canyons, remind me that God is my rock and foundation.
2 Sam 22:3
My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge. NASU
As I wander through the green pastures, meander the lush trails, gaze at the teaming waterfalls, and sit beside the still waters of the lakes, I pray the 23rd Psalm, imagining how David must have felt as he wrote it. Tears of joy fill my eyes as I stop to pick a wildflower, gaze at a mountain, or watch a sunset. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want!
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. NASU
Like the early European explorers, the hissing, boiling, steaming mud pots remind me of my image of hell and the judgment of God. The beautiful and strangely inviting, but always dangerous, scalding thermal areas remind me that there are some paths in life that I must not take, no matter how inviting they are. I take comfort in the fact that God will deliver me from temptation and make the way clear.
2 Peter 2:4-10
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. NASU
Just as I think it can’t get any better, an elk wanders through my campground or a herd of buffalo walks down the street single file, creating a traffic jam. I’m reminded of the many ways God continually delights me with His songs.
Your GOD is present among you, a strong Warrior there to save you. Happy to have you back, he'll calm you with his love and delight you with his songs. (from THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved.)
My favorite way to enter Yellowstone National Park is to drive south out of Billings, Montana on scenic Highway 212. As I was about to leave Billings, the person at the front desk of Billings RV said, “You might not want to drive Highway 212. It has a washout and a long detour.”
Disappointed, but appreciating his advice, I took Highway 89 out of Livingstone, Montana instead. I had been following and camping on the Yellowstone River for almost a week and I was thrilled that this road turned with the river and followed it into Yellowstone.
Just before I crossed into Wyoming and into the park, Belle and I stopped at a rest stop for a picnic by the river. People were picnicking, wading, rafting, or fishing. A woman walked up and said, “Is that your husband down there going rafting?”
“I wish,” I said wistfully. “Belle and I are traveling alone. My husband is a long way away.”
“Really,” she said. “It must be exciting, traveling alone.” We spent a few minutes talking about Pocket Full of Quarters. About that time, up ran her 11-year-old blond headed willowy daughter, dressed in a bathing suit, wet from the river. The mother introduced us and told her I was a writer.
“So what do you write about?” the daughter asked.
“I write about people and their relationship with God.”
“Who do you talk to?” she asked.
“Well,” I said, looking at her. “I talk to everyone I meet, like I’m talking to you now. Sometimes I meet children and write their stories if their parents will let me. I usually start with asking some kind of question. For example, do you go church?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head.
The mother jumped guiltily. “But you did go to a Christian camp. Tell her about that. You learned about God there. You just got back.”
“What do you want to know about my camp?” she asked.
“Tell me what you did there.”
“We rode horses, shot guns, and made things. We played silly golf and had relay races.”
“Did you learn anything about God?” I encouraged.
“We had a Bible Study everyday. We learned about God there.”
“What about at night? Did they have a campfire or a special time for a worship service? Sometimes it’s easier to hear God when everyone is quiet or sitting still.”
“Yes,” she said. “We had a campfire and people stood up and told how God had changed their lives.”
“That’s called giving their testimonies,” I explained. “I often tell people what God has done for me. Did they offer a time for you to ask Jesus into your life?’
“They told us how to do that and said we should talk to a counselor if we wanted to.”
“But they didn’t offer a time when you could walk forward and do that in front of a group?” I questioned.
“No,” she said a little confused, looking at her mom.
I looked at the Mom and explained to both of them, “A lot of evangelical camps will have what is called an alter call. Children get to make public any decisions they make about asking Jesus into their life. They pray privately and ‘walk the aisle’ to share their good news.”
“I grew up Presbyterian,” the mother explained. “I’m a Christian but we didn’t really do that. My husband was Catholic but the Catholic Church wouldn’t marry us. We found a Lutheran minister that said ‘whatever’ and married us. I don’t think it is right to hold your religion against you. Church is supposed to be about grace.”
“Certainly, we have a God of grace,” I agreed. “Some churches grasp that concept and some don’t.”
As we stood there gazing at the Yellowstone River, this mother said, “We’re on our way back from Yellowstone National Park. I was trying to recreate the ideal vacation of my childhood. We’re from Seattle, Washington. When I was child, we visited Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. It was the closest thing to a spiritual experience I’ve ever had.”
“How is the vacation going?” I said.
“Pretty well,” she said, not sounding so sure. “My 14-year-old son caught a nasty virus but he has been a good sport. He and my husband are over there fishing. We didn’t get down to the Tetons so I’m a little disappointed about that. I remember as a child staying in Jackson Hole at a ranch and getting to clean up after the horses. To me, it was my idea of heaven. We’re on our way home now but have decided to come back next summer.”
“I know what you mean about Yellowstone,” I said. “I start feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit before I ever enter the park. I worship the entire time I’m there. I can’t wait to enter it. At some point in my life, I want to come and spend two entire weeks here, walking every trail. They usually have a worship service and if I’m there on Sunday, I attend.”
The woman got excited, knowing she’d found a Yellowstone soul sister. “There’s something special about Yellowstone.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “There really is. But, you know,” I said, changing the subject back to God and church. “The real thing I experience there is the presence of God. It’s hard to avoid it in Yellowstone. I too grew up in church and was a Christian but it took a while for me to be able to recognize how the presence of the Holy Spirit feels. For years, when I visited magnificent places like Yellowstone, I didn’t understand the tugging of my soul. Now I understand that it is the voice of God and I don’t have to wait to be in Yellowstone to experience it. When I travel, I get to visit churches all over America and I’ve realized that if I enter a church with a spirit of expectation, it doesn’t much matter which Christian church I worship in. I have the same spiritual connection in most of churches I visit. Oh, I still love Yellowstone, but I love church even more. When I worship in church, I get that same sense of awe I feel at Yellowstone and I get to share it with other Christians.”
“Do you think that comes with maturity?” she asked hesitantly.
“I think it might come with maturing spiritually but I think you have to work at that,” I encouraged. I drove on into Yellowstone, praying for that family and for that young girl who has been told how to find Jesus but hasn’t found Him yet. I prayed for the mother who says she is a Christian but has to travel from Washington State to Yellowstone to feel the presence of God.
As I drove into the original North Gate, which I had never visited before, my CD player was playing praise music. I turned up the volume, started singing along, and tears began rolling down my face. I wanted to lift my hands in praise, but looked at the steep curve ahead and decided against it. Belle barked along as I sang and drove.
To read about scenic Highway 212 (Pocket Full of Quarter’s #1 Highway,) go to the Home Page and do a search on the words “Highway 212.”
To see pictures of Yellowstone National Park, go the Photo Gallery and click on the words “file name” to sort alphabetically. Scroll down to Wyoming and look for the files marked Yellowstone. Don’t miss Old Faithful going off!
To see pictures of the roadside park where the conversation took place, go to the Photo Gallery and click on Montana – Roadside Park on Highway 89. You’ll see my new friends running off in the distance.