Music has always been important to me, but I’ve only recently connected with Spotify. In the garden at Bethesda or at home I stream music through a Bluetooth speaker a friend gave me (another novelty), and I wonder how I ever lived without music at my ear tips. I walk every morning with earbuds and cue whatever my heart needs at that moment.

I’m new enough to the app that I’m often surprised at how it discerns what I’m playing and provides songs that are similar. Several times in recent weeks as I’m grieving the death of someone dear, I’ve been brought to tears by an unexpected, but perfect, song.

The myriad faces of natural beauty also nourish me. The Smokey Mountains or the rolling hills of Middle Tennessee have a softness about them—a nurturing, calming, encouraging beauty that makes my heart ache from the gentle splendor. My favorite hike on Ganier Ridge near my home is rich with color, texture, and soothing spaces. I hear the music of the outdoors and sing to myself (or sometimes out loud). Surrounded by nature or a song, I feel the swaying of the Spirit.

Recently, David and I went to Colorado a couple of days early before I participated in a conference. I remembered from previous trips that the mountains there are majestic, stern, and soaring. I had forgotten, though, what they did to my soul. These high desert mountains stop my breath with their power, their steep peaks that spear the stars. They are awake and alarming. They draw from me a strength beyond what I could muster on my own—a kick-butt stance that defies my normal limits.

The first day we crept to the top of Pike’s Peak in a scary drive for someone who is afraid of heights, especially with no guardrails defending against the sheer drop-offs just feet past the edge of the narrow road. We took short and not-so-short hikes numerous places along the way and felt the hazardous weight of being alone in the wilderness, even though others were passing along the road not far from sight. After shuttling to the top of Pike’s Peak (14, 115 feet), we set out from the staging area a few thousand feet down and hiked back to the top of an adjacent crest. How exhilarating to spread my arms on top of a huge rock I had worked so hard to ascend! The next day we hiked for hours through The Garden of the Gods natural area.

When my conference concluded, I wasn’t yet ready to leave the mountains, and I ventured out alone for about an hour the morning we were scheduled to fly home. I normally hike in silence, but that trek I accessed music, and “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” unexpectedly flooded my ears. I stopped in the early morning sun brushed by the cold wind, and I wept. I cried at the dangerous beauty of the setting; I cried with gratitude at the loving tenderness of God; and I cried with the heartbreak of loss and longing. I sang at the top of my lungs along with the music and worshipped in the best cathedral on earth.

I remembered that in the early hours of grief when my friend died, I faced a situation that required a calm face, and I didn’t think I could pull that off. A dear sister suggested that I sing as I drove to where someone was waiting for me, and she promised that it’s impossible to sing and cry at the same time. That evening she was right, and I was gratefully composed by the time I needed to be.

Alone in the foothills of Pike’s Peak, I found myself sobbing and singing, and I opened my heart to both. Each expression is the sound of the soul, and in a wide enough space, they co-exist with ease. In that sacred, ordinary moment—with the white moon still visible in the early morning sky—I felt the magnitude of what poet Mary Oliver calls this “wild and precious” life. In the tight, thin air, I gulped the fullness of both abundance and unmet desire, the lure of hope and the fear of the future, the gifts present in the wonder of nature and in the pain of loss.

I prayed that no matter where life takes me—the severe beauty of towering mountains or the familiarity of my back patio or office—I will hang onto a spirit that keeps walking, keeps noticing, and sings on.

Marnie C. Ferree