Paul Andersen: Fair Game
November 9, 2009
The Bible may not be the most widely acclaimed nature book, but if you’re looking for moral and spiritual grounds on which to judge the value of wilderness, there are few better texts than the How-To Manual of the Judeo-Christian faith.
Consider that Moses, Elijah, and Jesus all had formative experiences in the wilderness. These journeys were not made on ORVs or mountain bikes, nor were they peak-bagging escapades. Biblical wilderness journeys were either desperate escapes from persecution or personal journeys toward spiritual enlightenment. They defined “recreation” as literally the “re-creation” of life, faith and spirit. In this context, wilderness was sacred.
The most noted wilderness journey in the Bible was the one led by Moses, who took his people out of bondage from Egypt and led them for 40 years in search of sanctuary and salvation. Moses and his flock – over half a million strong – were subjected to all kinds of torments, but the wilderness kept them safe and miraculously nourished.
In her landmark book “God in the Wilderness,” Rabbi Jamie Korngold describes Moses as a reluctant leader and a flawed man who, nonetheless, led his people on a divine mission. Moses was in tune with divine messages, writes Korngold, in part because the wilderness banished all distractions and allowed Godly messages to be seen and heard.
Considering the many distractions of contemporary life, is it any wonder that a Godly presence is still found by many within the spiritual realm of nature? It was in nature that the Israelites discovered God as their savior as they subsisted on “manna from heaven” and escaped the Egyptian army through the miraculous parting of the Red Sea.
When Moses climbed Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, it was not a pleasant climb, but rather a trial through storm and stress. Korngold writes: “The physical exertion of the desert climb, coupled with the stark desert beauty, helped Moses to arrive spiritually and emotionally in a place beyond internal chatter, a place beyond rationalization or explanation – a state of awe.”
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Awe is one of the greatest gifts of life. Korngold suggests that the awe described by Moses on Mount Sinai came from experiencing the wonder of existence. Today, few places afford a sense of awe as profoundly as wilderness, a place where man can find a personal connection to the very source of creation.
Moses returned to his people after receiving the Commandments and promptly instructed them to build a “tabernacle” for worship. Ironically, Moses had just met God on a wild mountain, only to mandate that a manmade structure be used for formal worship. “How different religion might have been,” muses Korngold, “had we kept the wilderness tradition of awe alive!”
When the prophet Elijah sought an audience with God, he, too, entered the desert wilderness. God visited Elijah at Mount Horeb with a “mighty wind” that split mountains, with an earthquake, and finally with fire. But, says the Bible, the Lord was not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire.
After the tumult subsided, Elijah was left with one vitally important thing. It wasn’t a physical manifestation of the Lord, but rather “a still, small voice.” That voice, suggests Korngold, spoke in the quiet of Elijah’s. That voice became the essence of an introspective, truth-bearing, intuitive expression of divinity and sanctity, and it happened in wilderness.
The still, small voice is hard to hear over the distractions of life. It is drowned out by radio, TV, iPods, motors and machines. Hearing that voice is part of a spiritual journey that originates with a search for meaning in the natural world, all of which, according to many religious and spiritual precepts, is the most sacred deliverance from God to man.
Wilderness is the closest thing we have to pristine creation, the closest connection we know to the awe of existence. The still, small voice speaks to our deepest spiritual resonance, and listening to it is critical to our collective future. “We must take care of the planet,” urges Korngold, “for as we destroy the earth (either through action or lack thereof) we destroy our opportunity for spirit, and we destroy ourselves.”
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