"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike." - John Muir, The Yosemite, 1912.
Ishmael was born there. Moses fled there. God sustained the Israelites there. Joseph was thrown there. David left his sheep there. God often shows up in unique ways there. The Psalmist writes of Israel’s struggle there. Isaiah writes of God’s provision there. John lived, preached and baptized there. Many times Jesus fled there. The biblical text mentions it over 150 times. The early church fathers and mothers escaped there.
Where is there?
In case you haven’t figured it out, the there is wilderness. It’s an important place that runs through our entire scripture, from Genesis to Revelation but yet it’s no place in particular. Go ahead and check your maps for wilderness. You won’t find it listed between the cities of Wichita, USA or Wiesbaden, Germany. Often you’ll find it far from those cities and out of the reaches of empire, away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Survival there isn’t nearly as simple as running to the local grocery store or turning up the thermostat. It’s a place whose magnitude often overwhelms you, leaving you feeling insignificant and insecure.
Sadly, it’s a place many don’t go and we suffer because of it.
In Richard Louv’s book, “Last Child in the Woods” he coins the term nature-deficit disorder to describe the problems connected to children spending so little time outdoors and whose only entertainment is the kind that has to be plugged into a wall. Looking at various studies, he chronicles how kids who aren’t connected to wilderness suffer with, among other things, higher rates of ADHD, depression, stress and obesity. Adults with that same disorder aren’t much better off either.
Wilderness is vital to who we are as people and who we are as Christians. It shouldn’t be surprising that Christ escaped there to pray, to be alone and even to be tested. We need to get away to the wilderness to remind ourselves that we aren’t the jobs we have and that we don’t define ourselves by our successes or failures. It should remind us that as much as we like control and try to organize our entire lives so that we’ll have it, control is only an illusion. It should remind us of God’s command that we’re supposed to be caretakers of this Genesis garden, not to mention that garden has been and will be around much longer than us. And maybe most importantly in a society as narcissistic as ours, it tells us that we aren’t God and that we are in fact frail creatures of dust and that one day we’ll return to that dust in the wilderness. It might be just as appropriate to say, “from wilderness you came and from wilderness you will return.”
So, when was the last time you turned off your cell phone, unplugged your television, turned off your music and went to the wilderness? When’s the last time you packed a lunch to sit out and marvel at the beauty of Lake Nixon or Pinnacle Mountain? Or floated the Buffalo River taking in the beauty of the cliffs, birds, and rolling water. When’s the last time you listened to creation sing praises to God? If it’s been a while, or even if it hasn’t, head there and stand alongside the followers of God who have trodden the wilderness path before you.