Learnings from the Wilderness

by John Stoltzfus

“There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.”
~ Wendell Berry

“Why are we doing this, Dad?” exclaimed my daughter in dismay, in one of her low moments, as we walked into the thin air of the Sangre de Cristo mountains high above the desert region of Taos, New Mexico.

In spite of the incredible scenery, I asked myself the same question at various points during our family sabbatical experience in New Mexico. The path we chose for this time away was often full of challenges and obstacles, not the least attempting to climb mountains of 12,000 feet!

28512133866_b6b945227e_zOne of the constant refrains from our sabbatical host in Taos and wilderness guide extraordinaire, Todd Wynward, is that there is more in you than you know. Wilderness, in the biblical narrative, is often that place where the people of God are transformed and led to discover anew the essential nature of God’s presence in and around us. Much like it was for Moses, it is the place where God shows up in a burning bush if we have the courage to draw close and observe.

27928728283_4eb75fed16_zMy wife, Paula, and our three children spent three weeks this summer, as a part of my sabbatical, exploring this wilderness in and around Taos in an effort to provide an educational environment and pilgrimage for the entire family. After reading Todd Wynward’s book “Rewilding the Way: Break Free to Follow an Untamed God” we were inspired to embark on a journey exploring how we can be shaped into the kind of people God envisions to embrace a new day of justice, mercy and kindness for all the earth.

How can we model to our children and to our world a life that gives witness to the in-breaking wild and wonderful kingdom of God? How can we be made uneasy by, or as Martin Luther King Jr. says, “maladjusted” to, the ways our modern society and culture cause harm to the Earth, to each other, and to our spirituality?

28943426945_3618a91f07_zIn the pristine high wilderness region of New Mexico, filled with the stunning beauty of wildflowers, aspen trees and cool rushing streams, it is hard to come to grips with the harm we are doing to this planet, God’s good creation, and to one another.

Wen Stephenson, in his book “What We’re Fighting for Now is Each Other,” states that “we are not avoiding the catastrophe that is coming within our century and the lives of our children and grandchildren. Rather we’re plunging headlong toward the worst-case scenarios–critical global food and water shortages, rapid sea-level rise, social upheaval–and beyond.” And more importantly particularly to us as Christians, those least responsible for the climate change, the poor and marginalized, are often the most affected.

The climate is changing so why aren’t we?

28438661912_8ab4645c82_zMy children inspired me on this pilgrimage. They met and surpassed every challenge we put before them. I owe it to them and to all of our children to leave our planet, our earthly home in better shape.

The task before us is difficult. Coming to terms with the climate catastrophe is hard. It is a spiritual struggle. It confronts our deepest questions and values about ourselves. It requires a radical necessity of moral change. It requires our being saved from business-as-usual. It requires us to be grounded in the strength of God’s faithfulness and a faith community where we live into the call to be good stewards of the planet for the well-being of all of God’s creatures.

God will provide in the wilderness. Do we have the courage to see this place as sacred ground and encounter a holy God in the burning bush of our time?