June 21, 2010
And I searched for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. Ezekiel 22:30
I just came across a copy of a New York Times article about Cumberland Gap National Historical Park that I’d set aside in my “national parks” file. Reading it again, I wracked my brain trying to remember if I ever studied the history behind the important geological formation the park commemorates, which the article’s author describes as “like Ellis Island, an icon in the settling of America.” The answer, not surprisingly, is no, which is not to say my history teachers were negligent. My mind can retain only so much, and song lyrics, especially from the ‘50s through the ‘70s, take up way too much space.
Anyway, the article enlightened me, and the park’s website gave me more information. The Cumberland Gap is a V-shaped notch in the Cumberland Mountains (part of the Appalachians) near where Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee meet. It was the first great gateway to the West, the only practical way through the Appalachian chain for 100 miles to the north and south. Naturally, Indians used the Gap long before the arrival of whites, who fought with the Native Americans to push their way through. Among them was well-known frontiersman Daniel Boone (Hey, remember the TV show about him, starring Fess Parker? “Daniel Boone was a man, yes a big man. And he fought for America to make all Americans free…” See, I told you I had too many lyrics clogging up the works…)
The French and Indian War halted further exploration of the Gap for a while, but after it was over, hunters again roamed the area. In 1773, surveying parties began arriving. Boone, employed by a land speculation company, helped blaze a trail through the Gap and later led families over it to the West.
The trickle of settlers eventually became a torrent. Estimates are that 200,000 to 300,000 people traveled through the Gap between 1775 and 1810, especially after the trail was widened to accommodate wagons and cattle drives. During the Civil War, Union and Confederate forces fought over control of the strategic location. Toward the end of the century, there were attempts to mine the area’s resources, but eventually the land became desolate and neglected, until a highway was built through it.
The Cumberland Gap National Historical Park was dedicated on July 4, 1959 and, following the completion of a tunnel for traffic, an approximation of the original pioneer route was established. In addition to the trail, the park offers cascading waterfalls, lush forests, miles of other walking paths, tours of limestone caves, and a panoramic view of the three states the park covers.
One other feature noted in the Times’ article is in the visitor center, where quotations from those who trekked through the Gap are hung on banners. Because most of the people passed through anonymously, the words are culled from stories passed down in their families. The information comes from a form visitors can fill out. A park ranger told the article’s author that the “List of Ancestors” database was begun “after many years of seeing stories walk out of the visitor center unrecorded.”
In Ezekiel 22, God warns the Israelites about the judgment that would surely come if they persisted in their sins. The chapter includes a catalog of the people’s many wrongdoings (including injustice, murder, theft, and profaning the Lord), and the inevitable conclusion. God sought in vain for someone to stem the tide, to “stand in the gap” and halt the rush of people racing toward ruin. But in one of the saddest lines in Scripture, He says, “I found no one.”
Will you and I be that someone today? In our families? In our communities? In our nation? I know what you’re thinking: I’m just one person! I put up the same argument. But you know what? God was only looking for one person. One person can pray, one person can do what’s right, one person can see something and say something, as the current catchphrase goes.
If you’re willing to take the challenge, be sure to keep a record. That’s what my grandmother did, as I wrote in a previous post. I’m incredibly blessed to have the evidence. Yes, write out your prayer lists (and answers) and keep your journals, so that those who come after you may be roused to similar action by the story of how you stood in the gap for them.