As the trees begin to unfurl their spring leaves, we are beginning to turn our attention to planning our summer hiking adventure as a family. Since a child hiking has been an important spiritual discipline for me. I need to be in the wilderness. I need to hear the crunch of leaves underfoot, hear the bird calls echo from branch to branch, take the world in through a sun-dappled prism. For me, wilderness serves a unique purpose in my spiritual life. I need to be outdoors and be reminded that God created this great big, beautiful world and feel my troubles shrink in the presence of that awesomeness.
I also need to be reminded of the big picture of the story of God–that God takes us out of the Egypts of our lives and to a Promise Land, but that sandwiched between the terrible and the glorious there is the waiting…and the whining…and the unknown. The Christian story tells us that there is death and then there is rising…but first there is darkness and waiting and not knowing. Wilderness connects me to these big stories of my faith and reminds me to look at the stories unfolding in the present in a new way.
A Sense of Wonder
There is a moment on every hike when the path turns or the tree line thins or the creek drops into a cascade that catches you by surprise. It’s one of the things that makes hiking so spiritual for me–the sense of wonder that can be just around the next bend in the trail. I love the way that long after a hike the traces of the experience allow my technology addled brain to be captured by a sense of wonder. As if by keeping my eyes open on the trail with the dappled sunlight pouring through the trees I train them ever so slightly to stay open when I return to my life, catching a glimpse of God out of the corner of my eye. In other words wonder bends the holy ordinary of my days towards noticing.
Gratitude for the Trail Makers
Every path started from someone seeing a glimmer of possibility in the wilderness–a destination to be pursued, an easier or safer way to travel, a recognition that the existing path no longer worked. When I hike I have a profound sense of gratitude for those who saw the potential in the wilderness and put in the work to make my journey clearer and safer and possible. It reminds me to express gratitude for those who have mentored me so that my path was smoother, for those who struggled ahead of me so that my paths have been possible.
We Are the Trail Makers
While I find hikers to be some of the most reverent, polite and kind people you will meet (I mean who wouldn’t be kind hyped up on exercise endorphins and the oxygen of vegetation) there are times when you will run across someone less experienced on the trail who has yet to learn how to respect the experience of creation. I am also teaching two young hikers how to be respectful and responsible in the wilderness. These moments always remind me that we are not just the people who use the trail, we are the trail makers. In our wilderness moments, we are called to not let the overwhelming and sometimes terrifying experience of wilderness wandering consume us or drive us to a place of fear. Instead, we are called to be the trail makers, that show others how to navigate what is difficult and scary and unknown.
Never Go Alone
One of our biggest safety rules when we are out in the wilderness is that no one goes alone. Perhaps this is because we have little kids or maybe it’s because we understand that the wild, like all of life, is unpredictable. But I think this is a good rule for hiking and life. If you can, if you find yourself in between Egypt and the Promise Land, if you are traveling between Good Friday and Easter Sunday in the darkness of the tomb, take a friend, or two or ten. We are made for relationship and community and sometimes we need that community to help guide us through the wilderness.
This summer I look forward to the sun on my shoulders, small heads bobbing in front of me, picnics carried in packs and eaten on rocks or fallen tree limbs and the steady ache of muscles put to good use. I look forward to practicing awe and wonder and being reminded of God’s story of wilderness and promise.
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