Back in 1990 I came up to Alaska for the summer. I was dealing with…and struggling with…and praying over…a call to ministry. I wanted to “get away from it all” and Alaska seemed like it was just about as “away from it all” as I could get. I was headed up to Nome, Alaska, and I really had very little idea of what I was getting into. I didn’t know where I’d stay. I didn’t know where I’d get my food. I was really unsure what my job description was going to be. For all I knew, I was headed up to the (mostly) unexplored wilderness of Alaska. Even before I headed up there someone too me out fishing, just in case I had to fish for food when I got there. You get the picture.
While Nome was rugged and wasn’t very far from some pretty remote places, it had a grocery store and (sort of) fast food and my housing arrangements were fine as I stayed in the church. It was not as “wilderness” as many thought it might be, including myself. Nevertheless, the folks back home in Indiana were impressed by my wilderness experience. They loved seeing the pictures and hearing my tales when I returned. As they said in Nome, “It’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from there.”
Now, I’ve lived up in Alaska for 18 years I’ve seen some wilderness. Most of it has been through a car window or from an airplane. But I’ve seen it. I don’t hunt. I’m not passionate about fishing. We’re not much for camping since it takes a lot to get all seven of us excited about that experience…and it seems we can only find time to do it once or twice a year. And most of our excursions involve long walks or hikes from a nice parking lot at a trail head.
Granted, while out and about I’ve come across bears and moose and persons who were surprised they ran into anyone else, but I’ve haven’t really gone into the “wilderness.” Perhaps I’ve dabbled in it. If we think of the Alaskan wilderness as the ocean, I’ve merely gotten my feet wet along the shoreline. I’ve waded into the wilderness. And most of the time I was just a few miles from the highway.
Now, there are others who have gone deep into the wilderness. I see the pictures of their mountaintop hikes and ski excursions on Facebook. I’ve heard their tales of homesteading many years ago and living off the land. They’ve been dropped off by planes in remote places to hunt or fish or to go rafting down a river or two. And they have great stories to share. It’s awesome.
But, you know, I’m content to live vicariously through them. I’ve been satisfied with my wilderness dabbling. I’ll put my feet up while the TV is on and read about their exploits. I’ll sit with them at Resurrect Art Coffee Shop and listen intently. And, in many ways, that seems like enough for me. My wilderness is not so wild. My wilderness isn’t far from a nice restaurant and internet access.
This brings me to Lent. This is the end of the first full week of Lent which began last Ash Wednesday. It’s the season some have called “The Church’s Wilderness Experience.” It’s the time when we follow Jesus into the wilderness and, if not tempted directly by Satan, we at least practice the spiritual disciplines (prayer, fasting, almsgiving) and repent from our sins. It’s a time of self-awareness where we examine our lives of faith and, just as the early church used Lent as a time to prepare new converts for baptism on Easter Sunday, we prepare ourselves to more fully embrace the resurrected life Christ offers to us on resurrection day.
And Jesus goes all into the wilderness experience. Mark’s Gospel tells us:
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. (Mark 1:12-13).
But for the rest of us, we merely dabble. We merely wade. We stay don’t go very far in. Our Wilderness isn’t so wild. We kinda’, sorta’ follow Jesus into the wilderness(ish). He went without food. We give up chocolate. He was tempted by Satan. We’re tempted to fall asleep before reading our Bible. He is with the wild beasts. We promise to pray every day and then break that promise after a week or so when we just forget. The angels wait on Jesus and he dives right into his mission after forty days. We, for six weeks, look forward to Easter Sunday when the preaching can turn all happy again. It’s a different experience.
So, what if we went all in…into the wilderness? What if, instead of listening to the stories of those who sacrificed and gave up something for Christ we felt a call to do that as well? What if that spiritual mountaintop tale was our own because we gave up some security to enter a time of spiritual testing and growth?
What if, instead of kinda’, sorta’ following Jesus into the Wilderness(ish), we really joined him?
Maybe we don’t want our wilderness all that wild.