Dear Members and Friends,
How to Recognize Grace
It takes you by surprise
It comes in odd packages
It sometimes looks like loss
It acts like rain
Or like a seed
It’s both reliable and unpredictable
It’s not what you were aiming at
Or what you thought you deserved
It supplies what you need
Not necessarily what you want
It grows you up
And lets you be a child
It reminds you you’re not in control
And that not being in control
Is a form of freedom
-Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, 21st century
The Wilderness is a challenging reality. Whether that is a literal wilderness like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from which I just returned after six days of immersion in lakes, rivers, beaver dams, loons, sleeping in a tent on the ground, paddling a canoe, carrying that canoe over rocky portages, pine trees, mosquitoes, and biting black flies. Or whether it is a metaphorical wilderness of loneliness, isolation, depression, rejection, self-questioning and second guessing, or ridiculous expectations by an uncaring employer.
The Wilderness is a powerful metaphor in the biblical and Christian tradition. It is often an image for failure. It is in the Wilderness that our primary temptations become exposed – those of power, status, and security. But the Wilderness is also a place where God forms and reforms God’s people. As we face our temptations and grapple with them the Wilderness can become a place of honeymoon for us with God.
Thus it is that the Wilderness is also a place of Grace. In the Wilderness, we are surprised by Grace. It always appears when we least expect it and in ways for which we are not looking. Grace is never what we were aiming at, (more likely our aim was for success, triumph, victory!) But Grace always supplies exactly what we need. Most importantly Grace reminds us we are not in control, but that is okay because God is in control and that is the ultimate freedom.
All of this and more is exactly what I experienced once again in the Boundary Waters. It is a primary reason why I love that place and that experience and have returned eight different times over the past 35 years. Living and traveling in the Wilderness for six days tests and challenges me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It provided me an opportunity to once again push myself and discover my limits. (Surprisingly, those limits were not as “limiting” as I feared.) It provided an opportunity to gauge the extent of my growth and maturity since the last time I entered the Wilderness six years ago.
The Boundary Waters also allowed me to reconnect with this amazing natural world which God has created and bestowed upon us as a blessing. While we did not see as much wildlife as I have on some past trips (we did see two beautiful Trumpeter swans, a few pesky, inquisitive squirrels, a massive colony of red ants, a few loons, and quite a few fish my brother caught, including two Northern Pike we ate for breakfast and one Walleye we enjoyed as fish nuggets for an appetizer before dinner) we did enjoy beautiful blue skies, crystalline waters from which we could drink right from the lakes, a breathtaking night sky with more stars than I could even begin to count, and glorious coral, magenta, red, orange and yellow sunrises and sunsets.
The Wilderness can be a frightening place. To confront our weaknesses, our limits and our vulnerabilities can be painful. But if we are willing to wait on God, to enter the Wilderness with faith and trust, we will not be disappointed. We will discover Grace. We will discover that God is in the Wilderness. In fact, God is always there with us.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida