Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Take a Hike

"Moses does not encounter the living God at the mall. He finds Him (or is found by Him) somewhere out in the deserts of Sinai, a long way from the comforts of Egypt... Where did the great prophet Elijah go to recover his strength? To the wild. As did John the Baptist, and his cousin, Jesus, Who is led by the Spirit into the wilderness."
- John Eldredge

I think our ancestors in the faith were natural hikers, minus the fleece caps, "sport-grip" water bottles, and Velcro bootstraps (I bet they would've loved Velcro though). They were simply in their element under a star-crowded sky. The smell of a wood fire, the rich, damp earth, the swell of the grapevine, the crush of grain between the fingertips, the smell of wool, thin air rocky climbs up craggy hills, sand and rock and the salt sea: all these were not extravagances for them. It was simply life. And everything became their teacher.

But when is the last time we walked on grass? Touched the cool bark of a tree, moved off of the beaten path, got our shoes muddy? We can move about an entire day from concrete to asphalt, linoleum to the plush carpets of our living rooms and never once touch the earth. In the words of one of my freshmen students, "What up wit 'dat?"

If the earth is a kind of sacrament (and it is), and every living thing both its own reality and a glimmer of a mystery in the Mind of God (and they are, from flowers to rivers, our bodies to the swirling galaxies) then this distance we create is a kind of blockade, isn't it? We are closing our hearts to the fruitfulness of that (lower case) sacramental life. God comes to greet us in the wild, in the desert, in the stillness of the morning and the dark blanket of the night, and we close the door in the middle of His "hello."

"Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come! For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone."

"Uh, but I'm not dressed for it. Actually, I'm kinda busy right now. I have... a meeting."

As Thoreau said, we need the tonic of wilderness. We need the desert desperately. We've grown soft like jelly and we've forgotten where we come from, and where we're going. We've settled into this world as the Hebrews did in Egypt, so that even when freedom calls, we prefer slavery. We need the same antidote to the poison of sin; detoxification, rehabilitation, the stripping away of superfluities. We need to take a hike.

Enter Lent...


OK, so we can't pack up and head to Sinai, or the Sahara, or the wilds of Northern Maine (dang it), but we can enter Lent. We can get up early and walk, pray, sit in the stillness as the morning pours liquid gold on the world and listen.... There is as much if not more of a wilderness in the hollow of our hearts that needs exploring, and we've crammed it full of busyness and noise and "responsibilities."

Lent is about finding our hearts again in that wilderness, and it's often only in the wilderness that we can find them. In the cold clear light, in the arid places, in the quiet stretch of the mind apart from the noise and haste of civilization. Lent is about being driven out of our comfortability, into the mud and briars and wild tangled vines and into the woods where the hermit thrush sings and mystery moves in shadow.

So let today be the first step into that desert... unplugged, stripped, silent, watchful. What mysteries will be revealed? What signs will we see? What superfluities will we let go of on this journey? And where will we find ourselves in 40 days?

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