I recently went for a run on a trail in the North Georgia Mountains. The trail was on the verge of being overgrown. Vines slapped my legs and face as I twisted and turned along the rocky path. I rolled my ankle twice and nearly slipped down a steep embankment. After pushing hard up a sharp incline I stopped to catch my breath.
And if I'm honest, I felt a slight bit of fear. When you’re several miles deep into the wilderness, it only takes a moment to realize just how wild and untamed nature is. There is something that awakens in our consciousness when we step away from the numbing comforts of modern society. It's not just adventuresome; it's worshipful.
In our generation we go to “houses” of worship. We drive into parking lots and walk paved sidewalks that lead into perfectly decorated air conditioned buildings while we sip coffee and watch a performance on a stage. The most that is asked of us is that we sing a few songs, listen to a funny sermon, and swipe our debit cards at the "giving kiosks" on the way out.
It was not always this way. Moses worshiped at a burning bush in the wilderness. He saw God's glory while standing on a rock. Abraham climbed a mountain, built an altar, and attempted to sacrifice his one and only son. Elijah stood through a powerful wind that shattered the rocks, an earthquake, and a great fire, to hear the still small voice of the Lord. Noah built an ark with his bare hands, and David danced outside the city with all his might. It was not just spiritual or mental...it was physical. Today we are content to sit in pews and look at projected pictures of nature with overlaid lyrics rather than make space in God’s creation and have his eternal lyric written on our hearts. I'm not saying we can't find God in churches and cathedrals. We most certainly can, but there is more of God to be seen. As the psalmist says, "the earth is the Lord's and all that is in it".
Church history is filled with the stories of saints who spent long periods of time in silence, solitude and nature. St. Francis of Assisi was known for his love of nature and animals and certainly was not in a cathedral when he penned the now famous lyric, “thou rising moon, in praise rejoice, ye lights of evening, find a voice!” He is said to have spent his time alone in the woods (sometimes without clothing) before traveling to Rome and asking the Pope to endorse the Franciscan Order. John Chrysotom devoted four years to the monastic life and then spent two years in complete solitude in the Syrian Mountains before returning to Antioch to become known as “the golden mouthed”. He was famous in his day for his oratory skills and is considered the greatest preacher and communicator of the 4th century. Jerome, one of the brightest early church scholars, spent time with the desert monks of Egypt preceding his move to Palestine where he completed the enormous task of translating the Bible into Latin. Commonly known as the Vulgate, Jerome’s translation became the standard Bible of the entire Latin-speaking church. Throughout the scriptures and church history we see heroes of the faith spending extended times in nature before entering fruitful seasons of ministry; the most notable of these, of course, being Jesus himself.
I am not suggesting we move to the mountains and become hermits. I am also not suggesting that location alone is an answer; but I am suggesting that we get out of our climate controlled cages and worship in the cathedral of the Creator’s handiwork. Go for a hike...alone. Consider the lilies of the field. Take a journal and "pour out your heart" before the Lord. Lift your hands, bow down, shout unto God with a voice of triumph in the middle of the wilderness. I promise you something will come alive in your heart.
Life began in the garden. Life was lost in the garden. Jesus prayed all night and received the burden of the cross in a garden. Jesus once healed a blind man after taking him by the hand and leading him “outside of the city". Our eyes will be opened to something deep and true when we leave our busyness behind.
Silence. Solitude. Wilderness. These are well-worn ancient paths to a mystical and beautiful place. Our forefathers knew them well. I pray we will too.