The Two Faces of Wilderness

Wilderness; an uncultivated, uninhabited and inhospitable region; a wasteland, neglected and abandoned.

We in Aotearoa have the privilege of being able to experience some of the most pristine wilderness places in the world. For some, these are the ‘extreme sports’ people’s playground, for others, places to avoid. Fear of the unknown is enough to hamstring people mentally, and love for adventure is enough to actually physically tear that large muscle that controls our ability to walk!

The Wilderness with all of it’s unknown’s and risks are invitations for transformation. Changing our view of the world often requires moving to a new vantage point, like scaling the rugged rocky outcrops of Mt Tongariro’s ‘Devil’s Staircase’, in order to experience the beauty of the milky aqua volcanic Lakes that lie at the top of her pass.

There are two faces to Wilderness, one that we choose to embrace and practice and the other that is ‘done to us’ by circumstances outside of our control. When we embrace the former, opening ourselves to new challenges and ways of being we are somehow subconsciously preparing ourselves for the ones that blind-side us, life’s events that have the potential to completely dismantle our lives.

John the Baptist provides for us an example of one who chose to live in Wilderness, a man who rejected the culture of his day with it’s own trappings and excesses by living in the Desert, eating locusts and wild honey while keeping warm wrapped in the skins of animals. He is the Minimalist’s hero.

And then there was Jesus, who was ‘driven’ into the Wilderness to experience 40 days of testing; fasting and praying his way through a journey of darkness that exposed and confronted his very own devil’s staircase, preparing himself for the challenges that would also surely come when he made his way back into the world he was called to live in.

If you have raced with people on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with the horses? If you stumble in a safe country, how will you manage in the thickets of the Jordan?  - Jeremiah 12v5

Perhaps the Wilderness we choose is actually a safe country rather than something to shy away from. When we embrace situations, events and opportunities that pose an element of challenge we still have a measure of control. What we don’t know doesn’t actually hurt us rather it opens us up to new vista’s and ways of being. In embracing and practicing different wilderness experiences, whether they be physical or mental we are inviting a stretching of self, becoming bigger people more equipped and more prepared when we find ourselves running with the horses or clambering through the thickets of life that we didn’t plan for.

The Wilderness is part of life, the gifts of which if embraced remind us of the beauty and presence of God that nourishes and cares for us in the dark, and in the light, and who knows might even surprise and offer us fresh hope. Enter in.

Whenever we go into the mountains, or indeed in any of God's wild fields, we find more than we seek. – John Muir






Clint Gibson