Reflections on faith and art – Going Back to Move Forward: Da Capo al Fine

moraine lake

As a boy I loved to hike in the Rocky Mountains not far from where I grew up in Calgary, Alberta. Fourteen year old boys are known for many things. A steady, focused willingness to properly read a map is not one of them. On more than one occasion I got lost. Colossally lost. Front page news lost.

Now, getting lost in the hood is one kind of nervous. Getting lost on some back road is another. But, getting lost in the Rockies, well known as treacherous, moody, bear-infested and snow-smothered is something else altogether. Bears do their best grocery shopping among these unpredictable rocks, boulders and ancient back-scratched geography where over confident lads provide them ready access to fresh food.

A group of stolid and hardy lads in which I was involved, the Boy’s Brigade of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, enjoyed numerous such excursions into this high altitude, western paradise each year. I, in fact, was a group leader, having achieved the illustrious honor of Lance Corporal (it sounded cooler then than now). Part of my duties involved rallying chaotic, testosterone-laden infusions of pre-manhood into some semblance of order; a kind of teenage yellow rope.

Boys Brigade image

Our destination? Alberta’s unrivaled Moraine Lake hidden artfully among The Valley of the Ten Peaks.

It is a space of unparalleled breadth and relatively young, but stoic guardians of Banff National Park. By comparison, the tiny, peanut shaped lake, covering barely a fifth of a square mile, is sister to numerous other glacier lakes squatting majestically in the Rockies, including Lake Louise. It is of a color impossible to accurately describe. Suffice it to say that the wildly turquoise hue of the crystalline water announces itself with an overstated elegance well suited to its heroic surroundings.

That was our setting. This was our set up: about twenty over-confident, wildly exuberant man-boys oozed out of two vans, dutifully fart-infested, noise-experienced and travel weary (it is a two hour drive after all), at the main parking lot at the base of the valley. From there a host of hiking trails, well trod and well signed, could be promptly ignored by our troop of bawdy adventurers. We were perfectly capable of navigating the complexities of the labyrinthine Rocky Mountains armed with a compass or two, a twenty-minute basic survival training video and our three fearless leaders (I’d include myself, but I helped forge the debacle).

One would think that our conservative Presbyterian environment might have created a more…human tribe. But, alas, as is the predicate of our gender, our bombastic tales of woe and  fabled exploits with mystery women, always surprisingly willing to succumb to our passionate advances, filled the summer wind; a wind mixed well with our own teenage gaseous effluent. As father to two strapping lads of my own, I am often privy to the baffling rampage of boastful male oddities foisted on an unsuspecting, eye-rolling public. Yes, I was one of those. Lord, have mercy. But, more than our strutting demeanors might suggest, we were severely lacking in either outdoor prowess or the wisdom of experience, let alone the common sense generally considered an asset in the Canadian wilderness.

compassIn just over twenty-four hours we were fabulously lost. The question burning in one’s mind at this point might be, how does one get lost when one goes hiking in an area so distinctively obvious as an azure-blue lake punctuated by ten rather large, easy to count, mountain peaks? Good question. We asked the same one, numerous times, each time with greater panic. Every cut line, every scree, every grove of pine trees all looked annoyingly similar. And with each wrong turn, our confidence waned. And, as our confidence waned, so did our supplies. The unwanted guest? Panic.

When life hits the place of panic and confidence has escaped out the back door, we will often put our heads down, flip our collars to “the cold and damp” and soldier on. We think that faithfulness to our present course is best since we can throw so many juicy scriptures to support it. Besides, we just need faith and to “man up.” Right?

As it is when lost on a hiking trip, so it is in life. Sometimes it is just best to pause for a moment, take a breath and then retrace one’s steps to the last recognizable place before starting up again. However, to one who is lost, once recognizable things seem foreign. As a result, we are forced to trust the more tried and true accoutrements of trodden path, compass and map. Our ending place, though seeming as though unguaranteed, is more assured in light of an intentional return to what we know best.

Go back to the beginning until you find the end – da capo al fine – is a musical term used to circumscribe large pieces of music that would otherwise prove too unwieldy and long. It also offers listeners an opportunity to experience again the musical strains that first captivated, re-opening doors to the sublime. It is also designed to bring a satisfying musical journey to a final, glorious end. And, it describes well the course of action best suited to the dilemma of lost-ness.

To heedlessly plow ahead regardless of consequences on some vague notion of finding one’s way by sheer determination will, more often than not, lead to disappointment…or worse. dc al fineTo stop, breathe in deeply the air that still surrounds us, and then prayerfully return to a foundational place, is always the wiser choice. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee we’ll find our place of origin on the journey quickly or easily. What we may find, however, is the still, small voice spoken just behind our ear encouraging us to follow the voice, not just our gut. That said, how fun to hear an orchestra take a stab at a symphony birthed out of the same bravado and self-assured swagger long vanished from our sorry troop and replaced with the unsteady panic of facing a vast forest with no clear sense of direction!

We did find our way home…well, with the help of RCMP helicopters and small army of distraught parent volunteers. D.C. al fine – back to go forward – forward back home. Our place of beginning, the spot where adventure and beauty became tears for fears (no, the real one) began, looked all the more beautiful for having taken the long way home.

BB picture:  (Check out more on the Boys Brigade movement here)

dc al fine:


4 thoughts on “Reflections on faith and art – Going Back to Move Forward: Da Capo al Fine

  1. I enjoyed this! Thank you. I’m a musician/writer who grew up by those same mountains (in fact I think I used to pass by St. Andrews on my bike quite frequently.) I totally understand how distracted boys could get lost. Da kapo also reminds me to go to the top or the head or Source for direction. Jesus Christ is our source like the headwaters of a river and everything flows out of him. May God bless your day!


    1. Charis, that’s amazing! Where are you from originally? I love the idea of returning to the Head, a term used extensively primarily in jazz but also classical and contemporary music. I’ve loved this series because of the seemingly endless metaphors for the spiritual life. Thanks for hanging out and God bless…R


  2. I grew up in Calgary and live on the west side of the Rockies now. Nice to meet you. Oh da capo. I can spell, really I can, when I’m not woken at 5 am by a sprinkler shooting through my bedroom window.


    1. Cool! I grew up in Haysboro, in a 900 square foot bungalow by the railroad tracks. My Dad worked for the brewery for over 35 years. I graduated from Henry Wisewood High School on Elbow Drive…you know, just before the wheel. Oh, and sprinkler in the bedroom is about as good as starting a fireplace fire without the flue open. Guess what our house still smells like, over a year later? Yeah, I know.


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