Reflection: September 17

Published on Sep 25th, 2017 by Rev. David Boyd | 0

I’ve long wondered why the land is so important to me, especially land that is away from our inhabited world, what we call wilderness. We went camping when I was a child, starting out in a tent and then graduating to a tent trailer before getting a fairly large (for that time) travel trailer. My dad wasn’t a great hiker or outdoor enthusiast particularly, nor was my mother. And of my siblings, I’m the only one who hikes regularly and gets out into the backcountry. I’ve always needed and wanted to get into nature and away from human constructed things, and I’ve been privileged to be close to nature wherever I’ve lived.

There are many bumper stickers that say, “I live to ski (or hike or climb).” But for me, it is the other way around, “I hike (or ski) to live.” I need to get into nature in order to feel whole.

         I can’t imagine life without access to the backcountry. I don’t mind visiting the city, but I find the urban wilderness of the city and the huge number of people intimidating. When I was in Jerusalem some years ago, I found green spaces to walk, one of which was a large wooded area; travel guidebooks say you shouldn’t wander alone in these kinds of woodlands, but I was going a little mad in Jerusalem and needed that little bit of wilderness to fill my soul.

         It is interesting to note that wilderness features very prominently in the biblical story; firstly, wilderness—creation—is declared good by God. At Sarah’s behest, Abraham cast Hagar out into the wilderness, which then provided a time of revelation for her. Joseph was cast out into the wilderness, into a pit by his brothers out of jealousy. Moses led the Jews into the wilderness to escape slavery in Egypt and to find a new revelation and identity. God provided manna and water in this wilderness sojourn, as well as the Torah, the Law. David fled into the wilderness from Saul; Elijah fled into the wilderness from Ahab and Jezebel, and then experienced God in the voice like a sheer whisper.

         The wilderness is portrayed in the psalms and the prophets as a place of testing, sometimes punishment and often redemption. Isaiah proclaimed that deserts would bloom and the wilderness would be transformed. John the Baptist baptized in the wilderness and Jesus was driven into the wilderness to face temptation. The book of Revelation conveys the idea that a new heaven and new earth will come and all creation will be reconciled.

         Wilderness is not something that is bad or negative. It is simply a place that isn’t inhabited by humans and is wild by nature. Some people in history have given wilderness a negative connotation, but mostly, wilderness is seen as neutral—just a wild and uninhabited place.

         Overall, wilderness is seen as a place to yearn and feel connected to something beyond ourselves. Vision quests and spiritual encounters occur in the wilderness. There’s an invitation to risk change in the wilderness.

         Ray McGinnis wrote about a program in the downtown eastside of Vancouver; men, caught up in terrible addictions are taken into the wilderness, places like the West Coast Trail or Bowron Lakes. Up to 12 participants attend the “Expeditions” adventure experience. One participant was quoted as saying, “It was almost like a veil was lifted. Being out in a place like this—it allows the soul to breathe.” The men work together and are led through a program of engagement. Clearly, connecting to the land and wilderness is important to our wellbeing. (See Spirit Sightings, “Seasons of the Spirit, 2017.)

Think of early Christian monks going out into the wilderness; think of rites of passage into adulthood in various cultures, time spent in the wilderness. Think of the Celtic sense of water and trees; think of ancient Polynesian cultures and the ability to read the signs of nature to navigate vast distances of open ocean. Think of 1st Nations people and being able to live off the land with what nature provides.

What a wilderness experience lifts up for us is the power of transformation and the need to be open to change and new experiences. For example, in the teaching about forgiveness, Jesus attempted to open his hearers to the idea that transformation begins from one’s heart and involves all of one’s being. It can’t ever follow a formula. Jesus was talking about forgiveness and responding to Peter who thought he was being magnanimous in suggesting the number of times to forgive someone. But Jesus’ story suggests that forgiveness isn’t bound by a formula and requires our hearts, our souls, our minds and our bodies for forgiveness and reconciliation to be real.

I was reminded this past week of the power of telling our story, especially when it is a story of struggle; in this story I heard, there was a desire to forgive someone who had done a big wrong. When that wrong is done to you, it is hard to be reconciled and let go of the desire for revenge or other acts of retribution. But restorative justice and the heroic work of reconciliation requires moving beyond our reactions and entering into the process of transformation. Being willing to be open; being willing to engage; being willing to see the larger picture; being willing to deal with deep emotions; being willing to meet and move to reconciliation. Indiscourageable goodwill calls us see the power of life and to heal.

Perhaps why wilderness is so important to me is that the power of life is readily seen. A forest devastated by fire and the power to regenerate; old wounds in the wilderness and the power of life that heals these wounds and creates new life. Fallen logs become nurse logs.

Jesus, in the teaching about forgiveness, invites us to participate fully in the power of life to heal, to participate fully in the flow of creation where new paths of justice and transformation occur. And when we immerse ourselves fully in this power, we will see change in our society and change in our lives so that all life will simply and freely be.




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