“Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.” – Luke 4:1
I remember reading this and wondering why the Spirit would, in one translation, “drive” Jesus into the wilderness. Then, I spent this last weekend (well, part of it) in the wilderness hiking and rock climbing and I think I get it now. Well, I have begun again to understand it. What a great weekend this was! I visited a camp facility in northern Alabama, near the Appalachian Trail. What beauty, raw and wild I saw.
Saturday I arrived at this camp facility. I was there to look over their facilities for a possible site for future men’s retreats. Little did I know that God had something else in store for me. I met the guy who runs the camp. His name is Roy. I didn’t ask him how old he was but he looked like he was probably in his 60s. He showed me around the facilities and we chatted for awhile. Then, he asked me if I could drive a 4-wheeler and off we went into the wild.
We drove for awhile to the brow of the mountain, overlooking a tree-clad valley named by the locals as ‘The Penitentiary”. As we stood on the cliff, with a waterfall providing the music, I could feel my soul take a big, deep sigh of relief. Roy began to go into his vision of how to use this wonderful property could be used to reach people. Then, he kind of smiled at me and said, “You mind hiking? Let’s do some exploring; I’ve got a couple things to show you.” So, we began to hike around the summit of this cliff and he led me to an entry of a rock canyon which led down the mountain to the valley. He pointed into it and said, “We’re going down. Follow me.”
Down we went, climbing and scrambling over and under rocks, working our way down the canyon. During the climb down, there were areas we literally had to crawl to fit between rock walls shooting into the sky. The whole way down, Roy led the way, guiding me down with encouragement and example. Then, we came to a crack in the rock, a chute that ran down at an angle to a landing of rock. Roy began to explain how we needed to descend the chute. We would have to use our legs pressed against one side of the rock face while pressing our backs and upper bodies into the rock face on the other side. We would, he explained, be able to descend the chute without using our hands at all, a process he called ‘bridging’. The key, Roy explained, was the keep your legs strong and not get too vertical. And down we went. Keep in mind, this dude in his 60s but he was down that rock like a kid. He displayed such confidence and energy, I was honestly amazed. He beat me down, of course, because I was behind him. When he reached the bottom, he turned to encourage and coach me down, taking a few photos while he was at it. When I reached the bottom, he just smiled and said, “See, too many people have stopped believing in themselves. They’ve already told themselves they can’t do this or that. But, you can do what you thought you couldn’t just by a little effort and belief.” Ding! Teaching moment. Then we hiked out of the canyon, all the while listening to the sound of the wind in the trees, leaves crunching underfoot, a soft breeze blowing, sun shining off the rocks…a picture of raw, visceral beauty. I took the whole way up the canyon to just feel, not think about anything.
We climbed back on the 4-wheelers and drove to another spot on the mountain to have a look at another building he’s working on. While there, the sun was beginning to set. I stood there, looking through gaps in the trees at the sun setting over the Tennessee River. I looked at Roy, smiled and said, “I can feel the stress running right out of my toes.” Back down the mountain we went. I spent a little while cleaning up at my cabin before dinner that night with Roy and his wife, sister in law and Tye, a volunteer at the camp who lives for adventure. We talked into the night of faith, God, interpretations and our practices of faith, told stories of life, love and loss…a wonderful day capped off by a great evening. I walked back over to my cabin and was serenaded to sleep by the sound of the waterfall behind my cabin.
Back to Jesus in the wilderness. There is something about being surrounded by a completely natural setting, something raw and visceral that awakens inside us when we are ‘out’. I needed that so badly to reconnect with a natural part of my life, an embrace of God that I simply cannot find in my daily life, my crackberry ringing, my computer, my boss. I left the mountain feeling completely energized with the embrace of love He showed me this weekend. See, I think Jesus went into the wilderness for several reasons. He went because the Spirit sent Him there to renew, prepare and experience an embrace from the Father that He could not get in the busyness of His life. When did we lose that? Why have we allowed our lives to become so busy that we cannot or do not take time out to reconnect, to renew, prepare and experience the embrace of a God who made all that beauty just for us? Get out, feel what He has made for you, for me and welcome His embrace!