Once upon a time there was a kingdom on a mountaintop. The King who ruled there was kind, but also powerful and wise. His was not a palace of gold or costly marble, for he cared little for riches. Instead he lived in a castle carved into the rough, red rocky cliffs of the mountainside. A sentinel of pine trees stood at attention at the base of his castle and around them slender white aspens shimmered silver in the afternoon sunlight.
The people of the kingdom lived along the banks of the river that flowed down from the snowy peaks. Colorful birds hummed about the bright pink and red blooms that filled the cottage flower boxes.
The children scampered barefoot up and downstream like squirrels in the treetops. Shiloh sat on a large stone still warm from the midday summer sun. As she sat, she recalled the days of her own carefree childhood – even on rainy days, when the dew seemed to rise from the ground to the heavens, she and the other children danced and played out-of-doors. This year would be different. The realization of this cut her reminiscing short. She was no longer a child.
Each year the King called all those who had passed into adulthood into his throne room. After whispering a secret into their ears, he sent them down into the valley as pilgrims on a mysterious journey. Soon it would be her turn.
Her thoughts drifted back to the spring, just three months ago, when the previous pilgrims returned. Just as the flowers pushed through the topsoil and carpeted the field on the mountaintop, the villagers went to the summit of the mountain road and waited. Before the pilgrims came into view, voices lifted in humming cadence, could be heard. The pilgrims sang in unison as they made their ascent.
Shiloh recognized most of the pilgrims. Some brought strangers with them, others returned alone. A few looked haggard, others had deep wounds, one limped feebly. Some pilgrims did not return at all.
When they reached the castle, there was a great celebration. The King held a banquet in their honor. Stories were shared until well into the early morning hours. Their tales were full of victories and courageous acts, provoking both laughter and tears. The rugged faces of the pilgrims softened and glowed as they related their adventures. They revived in the telling. Finally, they were granted a well-deserved rest.
Chilled, Shiloh jumped off the stone, cooled with the evening shadows. As she approached her cottage her mother met her at the gate. She held a summons from the King with Shiloh’s name printed boldly in dark green lettering. She was to join the next generation of pilgrims.
As she walked up to the castle the next morning, summons in hand, Shiloh was joined by many others. One by one, they filed into the throne room and up to the King. He whispered the “secret” into each of their ears. Were they words of instruction or of farewell? Shiloh was next in line. She walked up to the throne. The King looked deeply into her eyes calming her fears. Then he whispered words into her ear…
Marching down the valley road, some of the new generation of pilgrims looked fearful. Others looked determined. Some even appeared excited. Shiloh began her descent walking with confidence, remembering what the King had promised …
Even though you will walk through the valley of the shadow of death, fear no evil, for I will be with you. I will comfort you in times of trouble. Surely goodness and loving-kindness will follow you all the days of your life. And you will dwell in the house of the King forever and ever.
Bear Trap Ranch, in the mountains of Colorado Springs, is like Shiloh’s mountain community – also a bit of what I imagine heaven to be like. The King represents God. He sends us down into the valley on a specific errand only He knows fully. We understand there may be sacrifices and suffering involved on our adventure. There will also be victories. Some of us will return bringing others into His kingdom; however some will choose not to return to the King’s domain preferring the valley and its shadows.
Ultimately, He assures us that we will one day ascend into His throne room and receive peace and rest. Meanwhile, we recall His promises that encourage and inspire us on our pilgrimage.