Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Few Lenten Thoughts from a "Wild at Heart" Christian

Lent is a 40-day time reflecting Jesus' 40-day journey in the wilderness. Have you ever felt called to "wilderness time?"

I am a part of one of the two men's studies this winter at Saint Mark exploring the book "Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul" by John Eldredge. In addition to our studies, we have hosted a day of hiking, a night of shooting, and a guy's movie night.

I and the rest of the group members do have some issues with the material, but that doesn't bother me. Part of what I love about Methodism is we believe in using our brain (reason) in this way while learning.

I had read the book but the videos are new to me. I do feel that the author tried to make the videos epic and exciting, as an entry point to the concept of Christian masculine spirituality, while I the book reads a bit more solidly. In general, of course we noticed some denominational differences in language. Methodist literature does not generally use spiritual warfare language, for example, and I find that hyperfocusing on scriptural images of spiritual warfare can be very unhealthy. But we are really enjoying the study.

I guess the reason I like it so much is that I grew to a place in my 40's (the hard way at times) where I was desperate to reconnect with my true self. I had spent my 20's trying to figure out where I was going, and my 30's "going for it" (success, achievement, an adventure). Then all if a sudden, this felt empty and I began to want to reconnect with my true self, my "Christ self."

So part of that led me to various spiritual practices such as retreat, spiritual direction, and spiritual formation studies. But another part of that cry of the soul led me to the wilderness. I wanted to get outside and get quiet. Somehow, being in nature, rather than at a desk or coffee shop all the time, stirred up something in me. It was certainly the way of Jesus.

Adventure was part of it, yes, but not in the competition sense or crazy epic sense, but in the wilderness sense. This was part of reconnecting with my true spirit. So I love the epic adventures for that reason. I think that the curriculum videos do go over the top and are a bit cheesy, but on the other hand it is probably an overcompensation for all the "nice guy," docile, please-everybody assumptions the church has often made about what it means to be a good Christian.

More deeply, there is a theological undergirding underneath the yearning of the soul to get outdoors and to see the things of the Spirit as adventuresome. Too often in the Western church, we have assumed that spirituality is "from the neck up" (talking, reading, and thinking). But the essence of the gospel is that faith is embodied, it is about the heart of who we are. Our passions and longings are healthy and are part of our spirituality. And there is something about wilderness time reconnecting with nature that helps us find our true self.

We come out of creation, we are not separate from it. Humility means, in its true sense, reconnecting with the earth ("humus"), where the humble terminology "down to earth" comes from. I long to be truly grounded in God, which means to be rooted in scripture but also rooted in creation. And the processes we experience in creation (adventure, challenge, courage over fear, etc.) are mirrored in our spiritual and emotional lives.

So the Spirit drives me into the wilderness, and I love it. There is nothing like the adventure of being alone with God in the woods, on foot or mountain bike. I pause and breathe it all in, and I feel free. I am spiritually and emotionally connected to this earth, with love and respect for all of creation.

When Jesus said, in John 3, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son..." the word translated "world" in Greek is cosmos. Christ did not come because God loved the people, but because God loved, and desired to redeem, all of creation. Get in touch with the earth from whence you came. Jesus certainly did. And he came back refreshed and ready to be who he was called to be.