A wonderful intersection occurs between spirituality and wilderness. Spirituality is the connecting force of the unseen and mysterious. Wilderness is the natural, seen in all its original beauty. When the two paths cross, something sacred occurs.
The opposites collide, and the similarities merge in creating a union, and we are given something that is, at once, much bigger than we are and endlessly wild and filled with grace. It is a place and a power I have been blessed to visit and I give thanks.
Living in Montana can be very hard, but it is also a joy. Surrounded as we are by wild places, we take for granted what most can only imagine. I have lived and served my church in Missoula for 18 years and I don't think there has been a day when I haven't looked up to the mountains or seen some critter or smelled a pine-filled breeze and been given solace. It is special, and I've never lived anywhere where people loved where they lived so much.
It isn't all that clever to figure out that taking church folk into the wilderness - the very thing that so captivates so many of us in western Montana n with an intentional openness to things spiritual might be a very good idea. The church, ever since Jesus took off for the Holy 40 Days in the wilderness, has understood that a time of stark emptying is powerful medicine.
For the past number of years I have been given the gift of backpacking into and sharing the wilderness with other pilgrims, and doing so with a particular attention to spiritual discipline and seeing where all of that might take us.
What have I learned? With wilderness we have our senses renewed. We not only see the beauty of the Earth, but we see it unadorned with all the human trappings. There is not as much to make our eyes dart around looking at much but seeing so little. When away from all the noise and fury of the "real" world, we hear in a pure way as well. Food all of a sudden becomes more precious, and a comfortable rock replaces upholstered furniture. We encounter a slowing, and, paradoxically, we become more aware, more alive and more open. We discover anew that our spiritual lives are better guided by subtraction than addition.
We are called to get out of our calculating minds and use the whole of our senses. As Oscar Wilde once said, "Only the senses can cure the soul, and only the soul can cure the senses." Wilderness and spiritual practice (and there are many, such as shared silence, reading of scripture, walking or sitting prayer, worship, song or chant, and a host of other practices) have powerful ways of returning us to our normal lives with renewed intention and resolve to not only take better care of our bodies and our good earth but to deepen our lives with compassion and justice.
Not everyone is interested in backpacking, but the wild can be approached in many ways. How might it beckon you and how might the Spirit world call out?
Peter Shober is the senior pastor at University Congregational, United Church of Christ in Missoula. He is currently also serving as president of the Missoula Ministerial Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 543-6952.
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