Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Wilderness and the Ecology of Healing

Hiking on Douglas Island, in Southeast Alaska. Admiralty Island in the background.

Tonight, I started crying, and I’m not sure why. I was reading a book called The Pine Island Paradox. I read the following sentence, from a chapter about bringing wildness into our everyday lives:

“Maybe moral resolve is the highest value of wildness, the wild flash of awareness that the ecological wholeness of the natural world requires a moral integrity as well” (Moore, p. 100).

The sentence is profound, but my sudden outpouring of emotion surprised me. I believe that the author so clearly stated in that one sentence what I want to accomplish with my entire life that I didn’t know how to contain myself. I suddenly became completely overwhelmed at God’s goodness in having created the beauty that is the natural world. I suddenly became completely overwhelmed by my desire to communicate to others that beauty and our collective responsibility to maintain it.

Before I was reading, I had been looking at photos of Alaska on the internet. The beauty of one photograph in particular struck me to such a degree that I had to look away. The golden grass and the magenta of the flowers growing out of a rock made of slate as black as darkness was too much for me to handle. The color and the composition created such an amazing sight that I felt as if I was looking at the face of God. I had to turn away. I know that’s a strange, seemingly blasphemous comparison, but that’s how I felt. But if God is the source of all beauty, is that really so strange a thought? Is it so peculiar that the image in my mind of something He created would bring me to tears?

I began to think of my time in Alaska. I began to thank God for all the beautiful places that I saw there. I longed to be in those places again. I wanted to see the mountains and the glaciers and the sea so badly that I thought I was going to turn myself inside out. In unison, I felt both the joy and angst of wanting something that I could never get enough of. I don’t know how to fully describe it but I think it’s like when you love a person. When you truly love someone, you want them so badly that you want to somehow consume them into who you are. You want that person so badly that you not only want to define yourself in relation to them, but you want to literally be one with that person. You desire a complete lack of distinction between who that person is and who you are. They begin where you begin. They end where you end. That is how I felt, after having read the aforementioned sentence and picturing in my mind the photo of the grass and the flower growing out of the stone. I longed for the landscape of Alaska to such a degree that my heart was overflowing, and yet could never be satisfied.

I read the sentence again, and I was reminded of the faithfulness that God showed me during and after my time in Southeast Alaska. While I was in Juneau, I was on a summer project with Campus Crusade for Christ. God used that time to heal many emotional wounds. The landscape of that place has become for me an Ebenezer stone of God’s faithfulness to me. I hadn’t the strength to complete that summer on my own. But He granted me the grace I needed to fulfill the mission He sent me on. The beauty of Southeast Alaska represents to me healing that God has done in my life. Beauty is healing. Healing is beauty.

I began to dwell on my desire to incorporate the beauty of wild landscape with the healing that God does in our lives when we trust in Him. I’ve always had within me a feeling that the two are somehow linked—that spiritual and ecological wholeness are two different paint strokes made by the same Artist. For a while now I’ve had a desire to use nature as therapy, to utilize nature as both setting and metaphor to help wounded souls heal. I had a sort of epiphany, you know. Wilderness draws people in. I’ve always wondered why. Why are people so drawn to the wild places? Why do we feel rejuvenated when we escape our paved streets and skyscrapers? Maybe it’s because nature is God’s original design. Why do people spend their money on counseling sessions and self-help books? Why do people do anything they can to feel whole? Maybe it’s because wholeness is God’s original design. That’s what got me thinking about the amazing parallel between wilderness and the human soul. Wilderness is so valuable to the human soul because it is so beautiful and perfect. It reminds us––me at least––that wholeness and healing truly are possible. If it is possible in the wilderness perhaps it is possible within me. Wilderness inspires vulnerability, and vulnerability begets healing.

Tonight I was overwhelmed with God’s beauty and His healing. I was consumed by His goodness.


The Bearded said...

A couple of thoughts...

FIRST...while I was visiting my parents I went for a hike with my mom. It's hard to describe how much I found myself missing the Hills. Traveling to CO afterwards for New Year's only added to that longing.

SECOND...your last thought is one that a couple of friends of mine had about 10 years ago. They started a wilderness adventure that explored the untamed lands of the West and the eternal Word of God.

Might you find yourself in Alaska again this summer?

Manda said...

I spent the weekend in the untaimed wilderness of Northern MN. I too was overwhelmed by the Creator. Your words were timely and meaningful. The words to the song "Indescribable" come to mind at this moment... You're loved.

Mandy said...

Hey Matthew! Right now my students are taking a final and I am bored so I decided to actually take the time to read some of my newest facebook friend profiles which led me here. I enjoyed reading what you had to say, especially in regard to healing and beauty. I was reminded of the incredible displays of God's creation that I have had the opportunity to see...Alaska this past summer Victoria Falls in 2002, Lake Malawi in 2004, Snow Mountain Ranch. Anyway just wanted to touch base with you and say thanks for sharing!

jenni said...

i have read it, and i have loved it. :) that's so awesome!

chris said...

Wow! That is really exciting. I could almost feel what you felt as I read it. I've had similar experiences, but in different contexts. I think that is part of how God communicates a "calling." Wow. Sounds like God is doing wonderful things.

melissa said...

Thanks for being so candid in your postings. It's a beautiful thing to glimpse inside your mind :) God has created you with an appreciation for the beauty of His creation that is extraordinary. That He would, in His faithfulness, be preparing you, even now, to utilise those gifts for His glory...wow. The point at which your delight in Him and His glory intersect is a lovely place to strive for.

Ryan said...

I don't know if you remember me from camp like three years or so ago, but manda gave me your blog. for disclosure information would you e-mail me at ridecolorado@gmail.com and I can provide more information. I think that your inspiration is genunine. I have read wild at heart a few times and it always left me feeling a void to be "wild" to ba agressive and etc. but what you have said puts into perspective the wildness that God has pu into our hearts.