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Beautiful Fear
Image: Zeb Andrews / Flickr Open / Getty

Between 10,000 and 2 million years ago, during an earlier global warming, glaciers moved through a mountain of granite nearly 9,000 feet above sea level, carving wonders through what is now Yosemite Valley in central California. Among the glaciers' wondrous work is the Half Dome, which rises nearly one mile above the Yosemite Valley floor.

From the valley you can gaze up at the bald rock, or, if you're a rock climber, you can scale its face. Many visitors climb a path that winds to the top. Or, as I am wont to do, you can drive to Glacier Point and behold Half Dome across the valley, face to face.

When visitors get out of the car and start walking toward Half Dome, they typically have two reactions: they grow afraid and awestruck. Or awestruck and afraid—it's hard to tell which comes first. It's a combination of the sheer size of the dome face combined with the dramatic drop to the valley below. They start walking more carefully as they approach the edge. Parents grab their children's hands; friends grasp each other's arms.

The view literally takes one's breath away, and visitors tend to start whispering. They dread falling into the abyss, and yet they want to get as close to the edge as they can.

Approaching the edge of death and wonder like this inevitably leads to silence. LA journalist Christopher Reynolds recently put it this way about Glacier Point's "jaw-dropping views": "The spectacle is an invitation to consider eternity and forget petty human affairs."

For the Christian, the experience may bring to mind the first line of the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth." It's that "almighty" ...

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Beautiful Fear
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In the Magazine

November 2013

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