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Down From the Mountain

The Storyteller and His Burden Down From the Mountain

To digital media major Jake Cannon, the project just pitched to him seemed doable: create a brief promotional video to capture the 10-day wilderness hiking experience known as WalkAbout. It suited his passions perfectly: backpacking, mountains, wilderness, telling a story.

As a youngster, Jake loved to explore the woods behind his home in Marion, Illinois. Family vacations to Wyoming widened his scope and fostered a deep appreciation for the majestic mountains and sweeping landscapes of “God’s country.”

The proposed project offered the chance for him to revisit that love on a grand scale with a sophisticated camera and the skills he acquired through his digital media classes. Upon hearing the call for a storyteller, Jake volunteered. Mountain splendor, woods, hiking, filming and editing – he could definitely do this.Walkabout '13

Prior to the start of each school year, student leaders at Greenville College, including resident chaplains like Jake, “rough it” in the Smoky Mountains. They hike 30-40 miles and disperse at some point for 48 hours of solitary meditation, prayer and fasting. They often emerge from that solo period struggling to find adequate words to describe it. “Unbelievable,” say some. “Hard to explain,” say others.

Describing the indescribable now fell to Jake.

“I wanted to create a video that presented WalkAbout in a way that was true to life. Part of the burden was showing how serious this was,” he said. He assessed his skills as a videographer before the trip. “I knew what looked good and what didn’t. I knew experimentation was key and so was patience – as well as footage, hours upon hours of footage.”

Jake calls digital media a “tricky” field. “It’s not upfront in its Christianity like ministry or worship arts,” he explains. Manning a camera and hauling equipment seems more utilitarian than worshipful, and sorting through hours of video for just the right clip is tedious. “But it can be one of the most God-glorifying arts,” he contends. “I want my work to reflect my calling and to reflect Christ working in me.”Walkabout '13

Down from the mountain and faced with editing, Jake the storyteller made a startling discovery: the story had changed.

The tale he initially envisioned of immersion in God’s gift of nature was incomplete. Thoughts of his 48 hours in solitude reminded him that the story encompassed more than the earth’s goodness. It encompassed the Creator of that goodness; the Mountain-maker, who placed the vast rolling range of the Great Smokies beneath an even vaster sky; the Freedom-lover who released water to rush unhindered in torrents over moss-covered boulders; the Life-giver who let loose rains to keep the vegetation near Jake’s bedroll green and vibrant and provide sustenance even for the delicate snail Jake captured on camera, the tiny beneficiary of a moist leaf.

The story Jake needed to tell was really about a loving and responsive God gently bending His ear close to the earth to hear the prayers and praise of His creatures, among them, students camped in solitude. And, among these, Jake, a student of film, who bore a slightly heavier burden than the others – a camera and the charge to tell a true-to-life story about releasing distractions to better seek and find God.Walkabout '13

“Once experiencing it, I realized the burden,” he said of conveying the intimate mountaintop experience. “You see and touch the face of God through the beauty and grace of the nature around you. Sometimes it storms; sometimes it’s sweltering, yet through it all you know that as you walk, God is walking with you.”

In the end, the six-minute video gives viewers a glimpse of what WalkAbout was like for Jake. Its gentle pace and reflective narrative mirror Jake’s heart in the Smokies. Its calm gives quiet voice to his mountaintop solitude, a separation that he treasures.

“Solitude is distinct from loneliness,” he clarifies. “With loneliness, you are as the word implies: alone. You have a longing for interaction.” To illustrate the solitude he experienced on WalkAbout, he quotes Saint Augustine: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

Holy solitude.

Walkabout '13Back on campus, Jake poured his heart into editing. Alone in his room, he studied the images on his computer and lost count of the hours slipping by. Clip after clip, he sorted through raw footage and made scores of decisions. A locked door ensured no distractions. As he worked through yet another detail, a welcome thought sometimes invaded the tedium: Even in this, Soli Deo Gloria – glory to God alone.

This story was published on May 12, 2014

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