Atop the Mountain, Where the People Come to Pray
“We don’t get to waltz through the wilderness. The whole point is that wilderness is the place where we are lost and have to be found. It is Lent, time to get tripped up, to get to the wilderness, and to get lost.” Rev. Becca Stevens, Wilderness, sermon, delivered at St. Augustine’s Chapel, Nashville, TN (Feb. 21, 2010). Lent is the season of the Christian calendar that precedes Easter and represents the forty days during which Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness prior to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Modern observers may fast, give up a particular habit or indulgence, or otherwise cleanse themselves and focus upon the coming of new life and salvation in the risen Christ, celebrated on Easter.
Like Advent, Lent is an anticipatory season, but it also is a journey to a place, the wilderness. “It is right to make our literal and metaphorical journey into the wilderness. The wilderness is the journey, not the destination. It is the place we wander as we make our way home.” Id. In this age of convenience, it is easy to think of going into the wilderness in metaphorical terms. Although new media and technology enable us to learn more about our planet, it is not controversial to say that people are detached from nature, at least in developed countries. Given that reality, metaphor and abstraction may not trump actuality when it comes to entering and experiencing wilderness. Sacred space still can be found within one’s mind and body, to be sure, but it has power and meaning in the physical world of the tangible, tactile, and visceral. There is value, in other words, in taking literally the call of those like Stevens to go into the wilderness.
Wilderness is dynamic. Political theorists caution us against building our societies around “back-to-nature” concepts. The wilderness is dangerous and unpredictable. Relationships and interactions are complex. In the wilderness, there are losers and survivors. Some beings flourish, but all survival depends upon self and mutual reliance.
A particular feature of wilderness worth considering is the mountain. A versatile opportunity in many forms, the mountain has been both a destination and the terrain of journeys. See, e.g., Moses on Mount Sinai, Exodus 19:1-25. The mountain could be a frosty peak, a volcano, or, if your wilderness is a desert or other flat space, a man-made mountain, like a pyramid.
The climb can be exhilarating, the top a place of achievement, rest, power, commencement, perspective, and spiritual transcendence. As with the care needed when drawing lessons from wilderness, so too with mountains, as they are places of danger. The recent death of inspiring skier C.R. Johnson is a reminder of this. Danger and death nevertheless cannot be reasons to fear and resist entrance into wilderness and the approach to the mountain. The potential danger is as much a part of the mountain’s power as is the potential for positive outcomes. They are integral to the meaning of wilderness.
If we ever want to glimpse the glory of being found, we had better be willing to be lost. This season is the wilderness season, to remind all of us, a people with all our trials and tribulations, these times of wandering in the wilderness and being undone by the world, are times when we are on sacred ground. It is when we see the back of God’s head, the bush burning, and the voice of God in the silent wind. We stand in this season with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel and Leah and all the wandering Arameans to hear our call again and find new paths.
Id. The bulk of Lent takes place during the month of March. Even if you don’t observe Lent, chances are good that you observe March, a tumultuous month known for entering like a lion and concluding like a lamb. It’s a mixed up time that’s not quite winter and not quite spring. It’s as good a time as any to get lost in the wilderness.
Stories of discovery, renewal, being lost, being found, questions answered, questions asked, inconvenience, regression, growth, progression, and anything else that comes from the climbs and tumbles through the wilderness of life are welcome.