The Tonic of Wilderness

Scripture Passage:  Deuteronomy 2:7

7Surely the Lord your God has blessed you in all your undertakings; he knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing.”

So I’m also spending this Lenten season writing another set of devotionals for a church.  The theme for that series is “The Wilderness Season”, so I thought that on the days when I don’t deal with the coming lectionary passages for the upcoming Sunday, maybe we could wander around in the wilderness a little too.

Think back to the Gospel passage for this past Sunday.  (I think I actually wrote about it on Saturday.)  Remember that Jesus was driven immediately into the wilderness.  And, we too, somehow found our way there.  Now that we’ve been driven into the wilderness, where are we?  Where do we go?  The truth is that the wilderness can be either physical or spiritual.  I think it sometimes can be both.  It is the place we find ourselves when we do not know where to go, that place that is unfamiliar, uncomfortable, even seemingly unforgiving. It is the place, not unlike what we’ve gone through over the last year (and for many of us in Texas, the last week), where you wish you could go back, perhaps retrace your steps, and yet are propelled farther and farther into the unknown. 

Perhaps your image of the wilderness looks like the piney woods of East Texas, thick with brush and pine needles carpeting the floor.  Perhaps it is more like a rain forest, with slick pathways and unpredictable weather and odd sounds that you’ve never heard.  But think about the Judean wilderness into which Jesus was driven.  There were few trees.  The mountains rise up ahead of you, each one appearing to be bigger than the one in front of it.  The winds blow, shifting the sands beneath your feet making your pathway ahead on which you had set your course disappear.  And when you look back, your footprints are also gone.  The way is unclear.  

The wilderness is a challenge.  It is a place of continuous change, a place that forces us out of what is comfortable and familiar.  In the wilderness, our fears abound and loss becomes much more obvious.  The wilderness is a place where we have to let go of what we’re holding.  We have to set it down, relieving ourselves of its weight, so that we can walk unhindered by it.

Today I find myself in a wilderness of sorts.  My living quarters are askew, actually unlivable at the moment thanks to a burst pipe from the once-in-a-century freeze (which will probably return well before that!), and I’m relegated to a nomadic type of existence.  I’m moving into a place that will not hold what I’ve amassed.  So, I’m also looking at storage options.  The wilderness is not only an appropriate metaphor for my life.  It is also a lesson.  We tend to look at the wilderness as a place from which to escape, a way of being that is not to our liking.  But the wilderness is not that at all.  It is a growing place, a clearing place, a place that calls for us to let go of what we’re holding, what we’ve amassed.  The point is not to find our way through the wilderness but to become what the wilderness let us be—open, vulnerable, unable to fend for ourselves, learning to trust, letting go not only what we’ve amassed but also what we’ve become. 

This Lenten journey is about letting go.  Have you ever grabbed a rope to swing you out over the water?  You have to let go.  If you continue to hold on, you won’t end up back where you were.  You’ll end up slammed against the edge of the rock.  There is no going back.  You have to let go.  You have to drop and let what is there catch your fall.  Let go.  Follow.  You are not alone.   God knows your going through this great wilderness.  Let it teach you.  And become what it shows you.

We need the tonic of wildness, to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only the wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground.  We can never have enough of nature.  We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder cloud, and the rain which lasts weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.(Henry David Thoreau)

Grace and Peace,


One thought on “The Tonic of Wilderness

  1. I spent quite a bit of time in the piney woods of East Texas growing up. I always looked forward to the adventures I had there. Communicating with nature brings us into contact with God and our inner selves. I sometimes use my imagination to carry me there.

    I recently read the story of the life of a Nun who died at the age of 117. She live a life in which her most precious possessions were those people she came in contact with. She did not clutter her life with a lot of worldly possessions.
    Yours in Christ,

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