Gavin and I parked our rented Jeep in a gravel lot at the Washington Park Trailhead.
It had been just a 15-mile drive from Payson, “the heart of Arizona,” to our starting point on the upper reaches of the East Verde River in Tonto National Forest, but it seemed like forever, trying to make small talk with someone I had not spoken with since college. Though we are cousins, we have little in common other than ancestors who are all gone now, including our Uncle Tim who, in the language of Al-Anon, was “the alcoholic in our lives.” Gavin had become a tenured professor of Arts and Humanities and I had become a Methodist minister.
This was a trip Gavin and I should have taken in the spring, but during an on-going Facebook conversation that began following my mother’s death the previous fall, we had foolishly agreed that August was the only time that would fit both our schedules. Perhaps we should have taken this trip in the springtime of our lives as well, but we had waited twenty years more, beginning now in the late summer (some would say early autumn) of our lives.
We began our first day of this hiking adventure with a mantra buzzing in our heads–sawanobori: seek the source. Even though it might sound like a meditative spiritual practice, sawanobori is actually an “extreme sport,” popular in Japan, that basically consists of following a stream to its source. The word sawanobori roughly translates “stream climbing.” No trail, map, or guide is necessary. Just follow the water. The finish line is its point of origin. We first heard of the sport when a girlfriend dragged us to see a movie called, Mountains of the Moon about English explorers searching for the source of the Nile River in Africa.
As we walked, Gavin asked, “What are you looking for out here in the desert?”
“The source,” I replied.
“Yeah, I know the headwaters, but what are you really looking for?”
I repeated my original answer for emphasis.
“You mean God?” he asked. “I thought you’d already found God, preacher! How will you recognize God, if you run into him out here on the trail?”
“I see God in the water, the air, and all the Earth.”
“Well, I’ll be. I thought you were a Methodist, but you’re a pantheist!”
“I prefer Christian Panentheist,”  I answered only half joking. “The best way I can think to describe God is to use elements as metaphors. You don’t have to decide whether or not to believe in the existence of air, water, or earth. These elements of the natural world reveal God’s transcendent, yet immanent, nature in the spiritual realm.”
“How so?” he asked.
“For example, this steep climb is making me breathe harder. As air moves in and out of my lungs, I realize that without it I could not live. Yet air does its work almost invisibly. We cannot see air, but only the things it fills up, whether that is the rising of our chests or the expanding of a balloon. It is immanent, as well as transcendent, as much ‘in here’ as ‘out there.’ In Hebrew, the word ruach can be used interchangeably to mean Spirit, wind, or breath.”
Gavin chimed in, “I thought that was pneuma.”
“Not exactly; Pneuma is the Greek word,” I explained. “It’s like the Mercy Me song: ‘this is the air I breathe, this is the air I breathe: Your holy presence, living in me.’ The Breath of God imbues every created thing. The Breath of God is inhaled and then it enters our lungs and into our bloodstream—it literally gives us life! Even as we are often not conscious of breathing, we always do, and though we’re not always conscious of God’s presence, the Holy Spirit is always there.”
Gavin asked a natural follow-up question: “So, if the Holy Spirit is air, then what is God?”
I wasn’t as sure of the answer as I thought I might be, but offered, “Well, Sallie McFaque would argue that the Earth is the body of God, so Earth is the best metaphor I guess, in terms of the elements.”
“I’m not sure what God is,” said Gavin thoughtfully, “but I know what God is not.” 
“Tell me about this via negativa of yours,” I said more sarcastically than I intended.
“Well, first of all, God is not created. He is the higher power of my own understanding, but not my own creation.”
The reference to a higher power of our own understanding reminded me of the thing Gavin and I had in common. My path out of the pain of co-dependency was guided by Scripture and Dr. M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled. Gavin’s trail guides out of the land of addiction were The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and The Hidden West by Rob Schultheis. It was The Hidden West that reminded Gavin of the night we went to see Mountains of the Moon and promised each other, as we left the theatre, that one day we would go on our own sawanobori. In our early twenties then, we imagined following the Colorado River from its mouth in the Sea of Cortes to its source high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. In our forties now, we agreed to hike three or four miles in the Arizona dessert. The famous opening line of Peck’s book, “Life is difficult” is, for me, a constant reminder that the journey to spiritual growth is a long one, so taking it three or four miles at a time seems like a good idea.
When I thought it was safe, I asked, “So … how you doing with that ‘cunning, baffling, powerful’ enemy of yours?”
“Alcohol? Well, I’m six years sober, if that’s what you’re asking,” Gavin replied with no hint of defensiveness in his voice. “Sin, evil, addiction are all just naming categories. They have helped in taking a searching moral inventory and making amends, and talking about violation in both personal and corporate terms.” 
“I used to think of alcoholism as sin,” I offered.
“And what now, disease?”
“No, thirst. My earliest memory is sitting on Uncle Tim’s lap watching Sesame Street while he smoked hand-rolled cigarettes. He didn’t smell like other people.”
“He was a drunk, just like me,” Gavin said flatly. “What you smelled was the alcohol and cigarette smoke trying to escape his body through his sweat glands.”
“I know that. We’ve been around alcoholism our whole lives. It’s embedded in my earliest memories. But I’ve made peace with all that. Now, I refer to addiction as “thirsting after” because it seems to me that, like the deer that pants for water in Psalm 42 and the woman at the well in John 4, Uncle Tim was thirsting after something he experienced as ever-present– immanent—but somehow beyond his reach—transcendent. In John 4:13-14, Jesus says, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again.  Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.’ He expresses a similar sentiment in John 6 and 7. In all of these verses, sin and evil are equated to thirst and Jesus is what quenches. When Jesus says among his last words, “I thirst” or “I am thirsty” in John 19, I believe this is the moment of substitutionary atonement: Jesus takes upon himself the “thirst” all humankind, so that anyone who drinks up the grace he pours out  might be saved. In the Old Testament, God uses the prophet to breathe life into ‘dry bones’ and in Luke’s gospel the rich man who died spoke from the grave, asking for pity and a few drops of cool water on the finger to satiate his thirst.” 
“So Jesus is like Gatorade?” asked Gavin wryly.
“Yes, he’s the thirst quencher,” I smiled back.
“For that deep down body thirst,” laughed Gavin.
“Is it in you?” I asked and laughed out loud.
We sat on wet grass and laughed long and hard. Finally, Gavin said, “My life was like Sprite, not Gatorade for a long time … you know the slogan?”
“Obey your thirst?”
“That’s it,” Gavin replied. “My alcoholism estranged me from God, wounded me, and I wounded others, wreaking havoc.”
“That’s why I like the definition of repent that means turning around and seeing yourself as you really are, rather than turning and going in a different direction,” I offered.
Gavin concluded, “Once I said, ‘I’m an alcoholic,” it’s like the evil of it lost the power of mystification and suddenly I was able to respond to my problem in more fitting ways. Of course, God ain’t done with me yet. I’m still a work in process.”
“We all are,” I agreed. “My understanding of the human condition is not fully worked out but, for now, I tentatively claim a process anthropology. I prefer to view humanity as a process of becoming.”
Gavin chided, “Your boss, that Wesley fellow, referred to that as sanctification.”
Back on the trail, we worked our way up a meandering watercourse flanked by firs and trimmed with clumps of vibrant-yellow monkey flowers.
 Panentheism is a belief system which posits that the divine (be it a monotheistic God, polytheistic gods, or an eternal cosmic animating force), interpenetrates every part of nature and timelessly extends beyond it. Panentheism differentiates itself from pantheism, which holds that the divine is synonymous with the universe. Erwin Fahlbusch and Geoffrey William. Bromiley, The Encyclopedia of Christianity. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 21. Panentheism is a feature of some Christian thought, particularly in process theology. Thomas Jay Oord advocates panentheism, but he uses the word “theocosmocentrism” to highlight the notion that God and some world or another are the primary conceptual starting blocks for eminently fruitful theology.
 ”Mercy Me – This Is The Air I Breathe Lyrics,” accessed February 11, 2013, http://www.lyrics007.com/Mercy Me Lyrics/This Is The Air I Breathe Lyrics.html.
 Sallie McFague, The Body of God: An Ecological Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993).
 Kataphasis says what God is, apophasis what God is not. Serene Jones and Paul Lakeland, Constructive Theology: A Contemporary Approach to Classical Themes (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 2004), Kindle Locations 606.
 Negative theology, or via negativa, accepts that the “mystery of God completely exceeds our capacities to understand.” ibid, Kindle Locations 609-610.
 “The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.” Bill Wilson, Bob Smith, and William Silkworth, M.D., Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism., 4th ed. (New York City: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 2001).
 “How it Works,” ibid, 58.
 Serene Jones and Paul Lakeland, Constructive Theology: A Contemporary Approach to Classical Themes (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 2004), 118 Kindle Edition.
 Augustine’s theory of intermediate goods refers to this thirst as loving things other than God, thereby turning away from God. Serene Jones and Paul Lakeland, Constructive Theology: A Contemporary Approach to Classical Themes (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 2004), 129-30 Kindle Edition.
 John 6:35-38
 John 7:37-39
 cf. Philippians 2:7 kenosis
 Ezekiel 37
 Luke 16:19-31