When life crowds in and all the pain and hurt breaks our heart, sometimes we need to escape. I don’t know what it is about the wide open spaces, the heights, the familiar trails, the quiet of the wilderness and the piercing fresh air, but it truly does wonders. We are facing some hard things personally and I asked Brandon last weekend if we could spend the day Saturday out hiking somewhere. I didn’t have the energy to think about where to go, and somehow he knew just to quietly drive me to one of my favorite areas, Black Balsam and the Shining Rock Wilderness area. We speak few words to each other, I knit on the drive, snap photos while hiking. Mostly we just enjoy the respite from our every day landscape. I think about place, and why familiar places can minister so much to our souls, all the memories sewn into the landscape. I have been coming to these trails since my childhood, but mainly since my high school days when I first fell in love with backpacking. I have come to these trails many times to be with God, to be in the wide open silence, the whipping wind, the other-wordly play of light and cloud. Now we bring our children along as we go, feet tracing routes we know like the lines on our hands. We hike most of the day, five miles in all I think, in which their little feet kept up with our pace with barely a complaint. We get back to the car around 3 in the afternoon and eat lunch all piled in the hatch of the van, wet and muddy, tired but refreshed. Souls reinvigorated. I am so thankful for this little tribe of mine, the way we explore and sojourn together. These children are so precious to me and I’m so proud of them. I pray they learn to endure when the way is foggy and unclear, when the weather turns from sunshine to storm.
The mountains feel a bit like they’re moving under our feet and we find ourselves reaching out for that which is immovable and certain. I can never express how profoundly grateful I am for the scriptures, for the God of the scriptures who is THERE, who speaks, who is unchanging and wholly Other while being intimately close, and for His word which is sure and will endure forever.
I turn to these old words from a treasured commentary by Walter Brueggemann called The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith:
“Land is a central, if not the central theme of biblical faith…There are no meanings apart from roots. And such rootage is a primary concern of Israel and a central promise of God to his people. This sense of place is a primary concern of this God who refused a house and sojourned with his people (2 Sam. 7:5-6) and of the crucified one who had ‘nowhere to lay his head’ (Luke 9:58).
A sense of place is to be sharply distinguished from a sense of space as has been stressed by some scholars. ‘Space’ means an arena of freedom, without coercion or accountability, free of pressures and void of authority. Space may be imaged as weekend, holiday, avocation, and is characterized by a kind of neutrality or emptiness waiting to be filled by our choosing. Such a concern appeals to a desire to get out from under meaningless routine and subjection. But ‘place’ is a very different matter. Place is space that has historical meanings, where some things have happened that are now remembered and that provide continuity and identity across generations. Place is space in which important words have been spoken that have established identity, defined vocation, and envisioned destiny. Place is space in which vows have been exchanged, promises have been made, and demands have been issued. Place is indeed a protest against the uncompromising pursuit of space. It is a declaration that our humanness cannot be found in escape, detachment, absence of commitment, and undefined freedom.
Whereas pursuit of space may be a flight from history, a yearning for a place is a decision to enter history with an identifiable people in an identifiable pilgrimage. Humanness, as biblical faith promises it, will be found in belonging to and referring to the locus in which the peculiar historicity of a community has been expressed and to which recourse is made for purposes of orientation, assurance, and empowerment. The land for which Israel yearns and which it remembers is never unclaimed space but is always a place with Yahweh, a place well filled with memories of life with him and promise from him and vows to him.”
Yes, maybe that’s it. When all is spinning, we need to return to places that remind us of who we are, where we are going, what is sure and unchanging. Maybe returning to those places is what helps to reorient us to the God of the place, and the promise of His presence with us in all our sojourning.