As an instructor for the Coldwater Foundation, I spend my summers leading faith integrated experiential education trips for kids ranging 10 – 17 years old. These trips run anywhere from 7 – 14 days in length traveling through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Superior National Forest. What this job has taught me is how to see my life and my faith in physical terms using the environment to create metaphors for learning. Once you start seeing the world through a lens of underlying meanings it is hard to ever go back. Even in the wilderness of Northwest Iowa, I see lessons in the land that make my days meaningful. Allow me to share a metaphor as of late.
The other night I was driving south on K64, looking east, admiring another beautiful Iowa sunset. However, as I reached the edge of town my view was quickly veiled by a wall of corn. What a misfortune that this prospering field should block my brief view of Heaven falling on the horizon. I craned to see beyond the stalks, but it was futile. The sky faded to black, a moment of natural beauty came and went unseen by my eyes because of the abundance set before them. The corn was just too tall.
This experience forces a couple questions. What are the cornfields in my life that are blocking the sunsets? What are the things of abundance that are being set before brief moments of heaven touching earth? What are the good things that I have planted, cultivated and grown, that now shadow the things that are beyond this earth and this life?
Living for extended periods of time in a wilderness area has taught me how distracting the things in my life at school are. I live inside this bell jar of comfort. My faith chokes on the surplus of it all. It is a blessing to live here, where food, water, shelter, safety and care are easily attained. However, in this kind of environment, my faith feels like a club I subscribe to or a brand I wear. In the wilderness there is a different realness to faith. It is a raw dependence for physical security where it feels like much is at stake. I have come to know that faith is best learned and refined experientially with God being the best educator.
The Bible is riddled with instances of God bringing his people into raw physical challenge and fear to prove his faithfulness. Even Jesus teaches lessons this way. He lets his followers feel real fear, tension and doubt in situations where life seems at stake. In a lesser sense than biblical character or my peers, I have felt anxiety about safety, shelter and food in the wilderness that forces no other option besides trust in the everlasting God.
The culture shock coming back to campus is that faith is talked about differently here. It is all in terms that do not feel tangible, when my heart is trained to see God’s provision in berries on portages or an hour of sunshine to dry my three days of rain-soaked clothing.
I think faith is meant to be lived in this tension of real dependence and trust more than it is to be talked about in academic terms or elegant prayers. There is wilderness ready to challenge and grow our faith all around. Not necessarily wilderness of mud and trees and bugs, but any space where the mirage of control and security is lifted. It is in these places where I find myself clinging to the hope of Christ and moments of Heaven coming down are no longer blocked by my insulating life. The places are not far, they are right here, it’s in Sioux City, Sioux Center, Orange City. There is a chaotic, messy world outside the lotus perfumed bell jar of Northwestern College. Just behind the towering cornstalks Heaven is touching Earth, where none of us are in control, where faith is clung to for dear life. It is there that my faith flourishes and I feel most alive in Christ.
My opinion for you is this: You should do things that make you uncomfortable. Go find a space where your only hope is that Christ is near. Find this place, set up camp and look for your peace to be sustained by the Lord. If you stay long enough, you will see small moments of Heaven dropping into the chaos, to be with us, beyond the insulating comforts that easily shadow them.