Finding God in the Wild Places
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Henry David Thoreau
By this time next week, I will be in the woods. I will be backpacking with a group of pastors in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado. Pastor’s Backpacking Retreat sprang from a desire to support ministers during the pandemic. It was one of many ways that Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery has labored to aid pastors as they serve during this turbulent time. The retreat is a time of respite, refreshment, discernment, and peace. For many, it is an answer to a prayer.
I spent my formative years living in rural Oklahoma surrounded by woods, creeks, and grassland. My brothers and I treated all of it as our own. We cut trails, built bridges, constructed forts, and drew maps of all of it. We explored endlessly. One of the saddest days of my life was when the land was sold and a house built in the middle of our wilderness.
In the fall of those years, more mornings than not, I could be found in a deer stand or underneath a tree. I did not know there was a 4:00 am too until those early morning wake up calls to go hunting, but I was grateful for the experience. There was peace there with only the sounds of the squirrels, racoons, turkeys, and bobcats to break the silence.
We camped and hiked a lot growing up. My youngest brother was almost born at Keystone Lake. Hot or cold, rain or shine, we spent so much time away from home (and friends and television) that I began to hate the trips as I got older. The city encroached on our country life, and soon we had more neighbors than ever before. I drifted away from the wild places.
Later in life, I fell in love with travel. I exchanged the exploration of wilderness for the sight-seeing of cities. Traveling from the west coast of Ireland to Dublin on the east coast, I sat next to an older Irish woman who had struck up a conversation with a seatmate. The conversation I overheard named something that I was only beginning to recognize in my life and the lives of so many others in this modern world. Describing her daughter’s family that was living in Silicon Valley that she spoke with infrequently, the woman said, “they just live so fast there.”
I am still struck by the simplicity and truth of that statement. We live fast lives. I know I do. Meeting to meeting. Zoom call to Zoom call. Activity to activity. We have no time for anything. We even lose track of God in the midst of our busyness. Prayer is lost. Discernment is difficult. Encounter with the holy nearly impossible.
Fortunately, somewhere along the way, I rediscovered God in quiet places and in the moments of rest. I found God in the wild places and God's nature. Rest assured, I still see God in the church. I still feel Christ in worship on Sunday and our ministry throughout the week, but my encounter with the holy is not only there.
I go to the woods to live deliberately at least for a few days. I go to find God in God’s creation, but also to find God in the individuals that are going there with me and that minister alongside me here. I go to slow down and listen. I go to pray and pray with others. I go to find God once again.
Rev. Tim Blodgett