{Books} Backpacking and Braving

One of my very first God centered, wilderness memories takes the form of sunrise in the desert. We were on a trip and it was Easter. My mom woke me and my sister up so we could go outside, read the Bible, and have our own Easter sunrise service. It was quiet and beautiful and we were able to appreciate the beauty of the wide open expanse of the desert.

Around 6th grade one of my teachers gave an assignment that was all about listening. We were required to go away from our house and find a quiet place to sit and listen to the world around us and then journal what we heard. Across from my house at the time there was no development, just glorious rolling hills. I climbed a little ways up and chose my spot. I still remember the trilling of the birds, the occasional car going by below, and one crazy loud whistle. I also remember the sense of peace of just being able to be.

The next wilderness experience I remember was at the Marin Headlands. My 8th grade science class went to explore and conduct experiments on a rainy weekend. There are some fun pictures of us all in the rough surf near our cabins. One part of the weekend included a night hike during which they left each of us at a spot along the trail to spend a little time by ourselves in the wilderness. We were close enough to see each other but it was very dark and very wet. As one might imagine there were plenty of prayers happening in this 14-year-old's mind. While it was kind of a scary experience I remember enjoying the quiet and listening to the world around me without all of the hustle and bustle of anyone else. This was way before cell phones so there wasn't much to distract me at that point.

As my freshman year of college was coming to a close there was a ministry fair on the Cougar Walk. A friend and I checked out one booth (partially because of the cute boy behind the table) for A Christian Ministry in the National Parks (ACMNP). You got to go work in a national park and do ministry at the same time. I called my mom convinced she would tell me she wanted me to come home for the summer. Instead she encouraged me to go. She said it might be an opportunity I wouldn't get to have again. I am incredibly thankful for her insight! So I went. I spent the summer cleaning hotel rooms during the week and leading campground church services and hiking all weekend. There is nothing like having an entire boy scout troop showing up to service and seeing the awe on their faces as a lady who only speaks Spanish breaks out in "How Great Thou Art" right in the grandeur of the forest.

The summer before my senior year of college I was selected to be a resident advisor. All student leaders went on a 10 day backpacking trip called Walkabout. I feel like this was one of the defining experiences of my college career. During the trip we slept outside in our sleeping bags, woke one night under a tarp that had been hastily constructed by our leaders as rain moved in, slid down a natural waterfall, rappelled, and experienced a 48 hour solo. While on our solo we fasted the first day and built a circle of stones to sit in and pray. On the second day I stood in my circle and decided to sing some of the popular worship choruses I knew from chapel. While I sang a humming bird flew right up and hovered on front of my face. I stopped singing and it flew away. I sang, it hovered, I stopped it flew. This went on for a good thirty minutes. I was amazed as I was also praying to see God in those moments and I do believe that was God showing Himself to me.

All of these moments bring me to Backpacking with the Saints by Belden C. Lane and Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown. A friend of mine posted a photo of Backpacking with the Saints and I knew it was a book that would resonate with me. It took a little longer than other books because it is on the academic side but it was a fascinating read. The book is set up in two parts. Part one:The Power of Wilderness and the Reading of Dangerous Texts.Part two: The Pattern of Wilderness Spirituality. The second part is set up in 5 legs: Departure, Discipline, Descent, Delight, and Reprise. Each section is dedicated to reading with a different saint and getting to those places in which you can read outside and listen. We are so very busy with the noise of our everyday lives we don't take the time to listen. I don't know much about saints as I grew up with a Baptist background. Reading about each of these saints and the experiences of the author made me cry, in a good way. I took my daughter and her best friends hiking last weekend. We spent a lot of time in the mud but we took a few minutes to just sit and listen to the forest. Outside of the blissful quiet of sitting on a couple of rocks there was the undercurrent of traffic from the interstate that was several miles away. We could have let that bother us but we chose to be in to moment and soak in the beauty around us.

Braving the Wilderness was another book suggested by a friend. It was an excellent book to continue my wilderness theme. The second part of the title is The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. As I read her experiences of not fitting in or not belonging I felt that along with her. I have always felt just out to one side. Close but not exactly in. I am a late GenXer and have felt like I was just a couple of years too late for The Cure but a couple of years too early for Britney Spears. I mean I did hit the sweet spot with Guns and Roses and New Kids on the Block so that is a win. Brene Brown talks about not making the drill team even though she knew the routine inside and out. I tried out for cheerleading twice. Once in high school and once in college. There may have been some lack of coordination on my part that lead to me not getting a slot on either squad. I always saw myself as the larger friend so some of that played into why I felt like I didn't get on the squad as well. I want to fit and often don't feel good enough, smart enough, happy enough, skinny enough, etc. Brene Brown talked about meeting Maya Angelou and a quote she read by her years before that took her many more years to fully understand. In the section about true belonging and trusting others she included and acronym for Braving: Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Non-Judgement, and Generosity. Each of these points are crucial for trust in others and in ourselves. Another chapter that resonated with me was People are Hard to Hate Close Up, Move In. For years I have talked to my college classes about getting to know each other in a way that is more than "hey what's the homework". We have talked long and hard about not judging each other and getting to know what is happening in each others lives. It is much easier to give someone grace on a group assignment when you know they were in the hospital having their baby rather than just being a slacker that week. It is much easier to deal with a neighbor face to face when you spend time with them instead of just driving into your garage and shutting the door. Move in, get to know the people around you.

If you are looking for a good book to read either of these will fit the bill. Maybe you will decide to explore the wilderness physically or metaphorically in the near future.