Into the Wilderness
Have you ever done a winter canoe trip?
I grew up in Missouri – the southern part of the state is full of rivers that make for great canoeing. One of them is spring-fed, which means even in the miserable Missouri winters, it’s never frozen.
Which means you can canoe in the dead of winter, as I learned when a group of guys convinced me to join them for their annual ‘crazy canoe trip’.
We rented a cabin for the night, and woke up early Saturday morning to get on the river. It was about 20 degrees when we put in the water – five canoes of ten guys. Everyone was wearing at least three layers and we took a lot of care not to get water in our winter boots as we loaded into the canoes and set off down the river. It was cold at first, but we quickly warmed up, paddling down the river in our coats.
Needless to say, canoeing in February is a completely different experience from being on the river in season.
It takes a lot more preparation – in addition to the normal food and camping details, we each had to pack a dry bag filled with an extra change of everything from underwear to boots and coat. We carried one dry bag full of dry wood, lighter fluid and matches, just in case we had to start a fire to warm up someone who fell in. No one did the year I went, mostly because it’s amazing how much harder you try to keep your canoe from tipping over when it’s below 30.
We were mostly silent, hushed by the snow and ice that blanketed the banks of the river. Not another soul was within miles, and we saw rabbits, deer and more come to the river to drink, confident that no screaming humans would bother them.
I quickly realized why these guys did this every year.
It was incredibly spiritual – the silence, the snow, the animals. There was a palpable presence of God in this place, away from all the things that normally kept us comfortable in the winter.
Let’s talk about wilderness. Wilderness places are harsh – harsh like a river in the dead of winter. So too the wilderness times in our lives aren’t necessarily fun – times of pain and suffering, times when it feels as though all the comforts of normalcy have been stripped away, when you feel lost, aimless, wondering when life is actually going to start.
As much as we dislike wilderness periods, we know they’re inevitable. Whether you’re in one now or not, we know that these times of transition are inevitable. And they’re hard. No way around it.
But just like that crazy canoe trip, wilderness places don’t have to only be hard. And if we prepare well, we can find God in those wilderness places like nowhere else. The wilderness offers a divine encounter that we simply can’t get anywhere else.