In the Old Testament, God established 7 annual feasts with the people of Israel. These were appointed times in which God invited His people to come and meet with Him. Through these seven feasts God has revealed His redemptive plan in it’s entirety. Each feast finds its fulfillment in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
This chapter of the journey through God’s story finds the nation God has chosen at the doorstep of the land He promised to give them. In spite of God’s promise and the multitude of ways in which He has acted on their behalf the nation refuses to enter into the land for fear of being trampled by the giants and instead ends up spending 40 years wandering through the desert. Though God wants for His people to receive and experience His blessings, both then and now, He will not enable sinful behavior to go unnoticed or undealt with in our lives.
I have always been fascinated by the outdoors. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania I spent a lot of my time hanging out in the woods. One of my favorite things to do as a young boy was to walk deep into the woods away from all the noises of the civilized world and then, when I was convinced it was just me and the wind blowing through the trees, I would lay down on the ground and just look up through the treetops at the sunrays and listen to the wind whistle through the branches as they lazily swayed. I could just lay there for hours mesmerized by the sights, sounds, and smells of nature. In those moments it was as if I was swept away by the all encompassing beauty of nature as though I were in another place that was unfamiliar and yet so familiar that I felt I was where I truly belonged. And, on occasion for just a fleeting moment, as I gazed at the beauty and majesty all around me, it was as if I caught a glimpse of something behind and beyond it all, something greater that held it all together and, for an eternal millisecond, I was transported there. Though the intensity of the experience was akin to the intensity of the g-forces pulling against you as you descend the first hill of a roller coaster the duration was infinitesimally shorter. As quick as the experience began it ended and I found myself once again just lying in the leaves looking up at the treetops swaying in the breeze.
C.S. Lewis speaks of what I believe are similar moments in his own life. In his book, Surprised by Joy he describes similar experiences in his own childhood and adolescence and describes the essence of these moments as, “that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.” He explains that these fleeting experiences are bittersweet because they are filled with the most intense happiness and an intense longing for more that could be equated most clearly with a kind of grief. Though some may think this sounds like an odd description, for those who have tasted what Lewis calls “Joy” this portrayal is glaringly precise.
For most of my adult life I’ve only had a vague recollection of my little retreats into the woods as a child. My wife and I have spent most of our adult lives living in or around cities which have their version of the great outdoors in the form of parks and preserves. I would withdraw to these places every now and then but it just wasn’t the same because they were not nearly vast enough to get away from all the distractions and noise. But when my wife and I moved to the Smith Mountain Lake area just a few months ago I was keenly reminded of my woodland walks as a kid in Western Pennsylvania. As I have taken in the beauty and tranquility of this place I have had a longing to head back into the woods and find a good spot to just lie on the ground staring up at the treetops swaying in the wind. I feel a little silly writing this because grown men just don’t do those kinds of things. We go out in the woods with a purpose; to hunt, to bird watch, to hike, or something else meaningful, but not to just lie on the ground looking up. We keep ourselves busy and purposeful and grounded in reality, right?! Maybe that is part of the issue.
My wilderness experience must not be understood as some sort of one with nature experience or finding my special little place within the cosmos. What I am saying is that there is an innate desire within all of us to connect with something, or I would say someone, who is behind all that we see here in front of us, holding it all together. As I have pondered this innate desire two things have occurred to me. The first is that as I read Scripture I am reminded that one of the hallmarks of knowing God is to be still. It was in those quiet moments laying in the leaves until time stood still that I would occasionally catch an illusory glimpse of something behind and beyond. I believe that something was a glimpse of God, which all mankind is looking for because of another Scripture passage I have recently pondered. The wisest man to ever walk this green earth declared that God, “has placed eternity in the hearts of men.” This is where we truly belong, and God has gone to great lengths to see that we have a way to get there. That is our innate desire, but the busyness and noise of this life have done a good job of helping many of us forget that all the hustle and bustle and performance won’t get us any closer to fulfilling this desire for eternity, for God. So, maybe it’s time we build a little more stillness into our lives. Maybe we all need to just head out into the woods for an afternoon, lie in the leaves under the trees staring up at the treetops as the sway in the breeze. Who knows what else we might experience.