Seeking That Voice You Need to Hear in the Wilderness

Whatever your own wilderness is like, I am betting that it has at least three things in common with all other wildernesses: You did not choose it. It is no place you would ever have gone on your own. You are not in control. You cannot even control the pounding of your own heart. Whether it is noisy or quiet, there is one sound missing, and that is the voice of God. It might not even seem like a wilderness to you if you could hear that voice — telling you that everything is going to be all right, that you are not alone, that it is all for a reason. But you cannot hear it, and that silence defines the wilderness.

— Barbara Brown Taylor, "Four stops in the wilderness," a sermon on the temptations of Jesus in Mark 1:9-15

Wilderness image

Many congregations, in a time of transition, explain it as a "trip into the wilderness or a venture into the unknown." I understand the reasoning for those words and other words that may define how a congregation approaches a time an "interim time." I also understand the words by Barbara Brown Taylor above because I have made a venture into the unknown wilderness.

I had the opportunity to go on a backpacking trip in the Smoky Mountains as a wilderness experience camp for post-high people. My wife and I were selected to be sponsors, and a guy I will call "Joe," led the event through the mountain trails. Joe was an experienced camper, and my wife and I were definitely not.

There were some things we were warned about prior to putting on the backpacks and beginning our weekly trip through the wilderness-Lots and lots of "switchbacks;" making "bear bags" to hoist our food up in the trees at night so bears would not be eating our food; be alert for the wild boars and what to do if they approach us. We were also told to make sure to use our water purification tablets when pulling water from the streams before you drank it. As well, we needed to carry tents and other equipment that may not be yours for the good of the other hikers which would make your forty pound backpack even heavier. But the last thing was we were told was that we would need to endure an entire week without having a shower!

The words of Barbara Brown Taylor resonate in my mind as I think about that adventure in the wilderness of Tennessee that happened many years ago. First, I did not choose the trip (directly). I was asked as part of the Camping Commission for the region to help foster and support it. Well, of course, that led to being asked to be one of the sponsors. You may know how "church" volunteers are "sucked into" volunteering without even knowing what hit you! "Try it, you like it. There really is not much to do."

Second, I would never have done this without a skilled backpacker leading the way, and I surely wouldn't have asked my wife to join me if it were just the two of us. We had a young daughter back at her grandparents and she needed at least one parent with her in her life if the wilderness was too hard for one of us.