Wednesday, April 29, 2015

In the wilderness

Christians have often looked at the wilderness as a place of adversity that tests one's faith. It is place to learn some hard lessons about what it means to follow Christ. Some lessons can only be learned through the adversity of the wilderness. God allowed his people in the Old Testament to live in the wilderness for years. Jesus went out into the wilderness at the start of his ministry where he was tempted by the devil. Many early Christians sought to live in the wilderness as a means to fortify their faith. The wilderness meant stripping life down to essentials. It meant the end of self - sufficiencies and depending on God.

The wilderness is the place where God can become real. His power is seen in forces of nature. His glory in the mountains and the sunrise. His abundant grace in the variety of flora and fauna.

The wilderness is the setting for the movie, Wild, which stars Reese Witherspoon and was based on the book by Cheryl Strayed. Ms Strayed is an unlikely hiker to show up one day to begin the Pacific Coast Trail. She embarks on a 1200 mile journey through unforgiving wilderness with no preparation and so much new REI stuff in her backpack she struggles to stand up with it on her back. She is there not to experience the hike but to find some order and discipline in her chaotic life. She has to do this for survival. Her mother died young of cancer and her life has spiraled out of control through a series of very casual sexual relationships and drug abuse.

She is seeking her salvation in the wilderness. She is looking for God who she does not believe cares about her or even exists yet she is angry at him nonetheless. Surprising herself, she finishes the trek and in the process becomes an able hiker. She has found some peace in her life and she is confident she has a future. Looking back on her life, without regrets, she wonders if she needed to be redeemed or if she had been already.  It's an interesting choice of words from someone whose life was lived on the brink often and there is no hint of a redeemer or redemption before this. Her father abused her mother until she fled with her daughter and son. Her son was estranged from the family and her daughter confused and bitter at the way her mother tried to remain positive when there was so much negative going on in their lives. Cheryl was angry at her mother, life and God if he was there. She starts her wilderness trek angry. Her anger is channeled into energy for hiking miles through tough terrain, and fears about what is out there in this wilderness world. She sits on a mountain top and watches the sun come up and remembers her mother taught her to delight in the best times of the day. She is on a journey to become the best person she can be - another lesson her mother tried to teach her. On this journey, Cheryl is becoming teachable. She is vulnerable to the unexpected, the weather, the wildlife, the men she meets whose interest in her is suspicious.

She is in a much better place when her trek is over. She has found healing or healing has found her. In the wilderness, she has learned lessons about her life. Grace is evident but she has no vocabulary for it. There is the beauty of nature, and the companionship of a fox, and a number of provisions that show up at the right time. It reminded me of manna in the wilderness. Her healing has a source but Ms Strayed has not recognized it, yet. In the wilderness, God is nearer than some of us ever know.

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