It’s been two weeks since my last post and this one will technically be out of order with the one that follows it in the next couple of days.
During this whole experience I’ve really re-engaged the person of Jesus in a new way. It began, I think, with a writing assignment. A recent project had me researching the origins and roles in scripture of the books of about half of the new testament. The Gospels were particularly challenging as I dug in to learn what each was trying to express about Jesus. Mark came first and combines stories of Jesus with known sayings of Jesus. Matthew came next, written just after the destruction of the temple in an effort to help Jewish Christians process their new faith in Jesus while facing the loss of a central part of their spiritual experience. Luke is up next, acknowledging the existence of several other gospels and mostly serving as an introduction to the book of Acts. John is so focused on the divinity of Jesus that it doesn’t even bother with an account of his human birth. That stuff fascinates me.
So as I’ve been muddling through this experience I keep finding myself thinking, “What would it have been like to have to do this in Jesus’ life feeling like this?” It’s been an especially warm spring this year, which means that not only am I missing out on the best golf weather I’ve ever seen in March but that my every-other-day bathing schedule has a pretty high failure rate. Last Friday & Saturday I needed to do a good bit of work around the house; while Britta worked cleaning off our screened-in porch, I was outside rebuilding & painting the eave of the house. (You have not painted carefully until you have done so in your only set of clothes.) Friday night I was faced with a dilemma: I was due to wash my shirt, but I knew I’d be working again the next day. If I waited until Saturday night, I could have a clean shirt for Sunday morning. But if I did that, it would mean no clean shirt for Wednesday, which is a much longer run of being around people. So I washed Friday night, jeopardizing Sunday morning freshness.
Saturday was hotter and longer. The idea that Jesus was a carpenter is romanticized well beyond scriptural support, but I couldn’t help thinking about what it would have been like to work in the heat with lesser tools and only the reward of a splash bath at the end of the day. Every day. And then one day to leave the “comfort” of that existence to traipse around the country on foot, dodging arrest and death until you couldn’t. I can’t imagine.
So with thoughts of Jesus walking everywhere firmly rooted in my head, I see in my Facebook feed that my friend Jake is headed to hike up Big Frog Mountain and is looking for company. I instantly knew I had to go. We see Jesus in scripture repeatedly drawing away for solitude in the outdoors, up into the mountain to pray at length. The effort required for this was not insignificant; he wasn’t driving to a scenic overlook for the afternoon. He’d have had to walk to the mountain before climbing it. Solitude was precious.
I’m not much of a hiker and admittedly out of shape. I was pretty physically active before my back surgery a year and a half ago, but apart from golf I haven’t really reengaged fitness in any significant way since then. So the 9 miles from car to peak to car with a 2,500 ft. exchange in elevation wasn’t a picnic for me. It was brutal. Less than a half mile into our hike we hit a tornado field, an area stacked with downed trees. We slowly picked our way through the debris, ducking, clambering, scraping. Jake’s legs were quickly bloodied from briars mixed in with tree limbs, not having had the good sense three weeks ago to choose pants as I had. After fighting through the worst of it, we realized something awesome: we were no longer on the trail. And it was nowhere in sight. We couldn’t see it above us or below us and guessing incorrectly would potentially devastate our plans. At the end of the afternoon returning to the car we’d discover that we’d missed a switchback. At the exact point where we’d entered the tornado field and under the worst of the chaos, the path switched directions and was returning the opposite way 10 ft. above our heads. After consulting the map, we knew that if we climbed to the ridge and followed it we’d eventually find the trail again. So we proceeded to do what you never want to do, our only option: with no trail and still in the tornado field, we climbed straight up to the ridge. We only had to stop three times on the way back to the path. I was ready to hang it up. My vision was whiting out and I wasn’t certain that I wouldn’t throw up from exertion. I was certain that I’d bitten off more than I was capable of chewing.
The rest of the journey was healing. Exhausting and depleting to be sure, but healing. By the time we’d made it back to the car I felt restored. The outdoors has always been my preferred house of worship, and yesterday’s service was tremendous. So much silence. So removed from all that obligates. So with God.
I’d always thought it was nice and poetic the way Jesus would escape to the wilderness to get away from his day-to-day. Yesterday I felt for the first time how necessary it must have been. By the time my phone beeped back into coverage, I’d spent the day separating myself from 18 emails, 7 text messages, and 3 missed calls. Jesus was separating himself from the weight of leadership, the next plot to kill him, the demanded signs and wonders, arguments from dissenters, and misunderstanding from his own followers. Eventually he would have to turn his back on the mountains and set his face toward Jerusalem.
It’s startling to wake up after years of calling myself a Christian and discover how very little like Jesus I am.