Embrace the wilderness

Originally published in The Christian Science Monitor’s Christian Science Perspective column, September 20, 2021.

Desolation Wilderness.

This region at the crest of the Sierra Nevada mountains is a barren expanse of granite peaks near the edge of the tree line. It is a rugged and unyielding terrain, but also magnificent in its vast, endless beauty. It’s one of my favorite places to hike, with my persistence frequently rewarded by breathtaking vistas and the discovery of hidden lakes.

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A few summers ago, this hike gave me a vivid insight into the unlimited good that comes from God, our divine Father-Mother, infinite Love.

Some months before the hike, I was deep in grief over the passing of my stepdad and mom, followed by our family dog. It was a dark period of loss and loneliness. When I was a teenager, my father died, and my stepdad’s kindness and steadiness became a ballast in my life. Deprived of him and my mom now, I felt weak and vulnerable.

In tears, I reached out in prayer for comfort. Through my study of Christian Science and the light it throws on the Scriptures, I was learning that God, divine Love, is our creator, maintainer, and sustainer. We naturally reflect all the qualities of our divine Parent. I reasoned spiritually, “Would God give gifts to one person and not to another? Would God give spiritual qualities to my family and withhold them from me?” No! Although we each express divine qualities in unique ways, we all possess the fullness of God’s goodness and ability to express it in our lives.

This gentle reminder—that the source and substance of good isn’t a human, but divine Love—fortified me. 

In a flash of insight one day I realized, “This is the wilderness!” It immediately brought to mind the biblical account of the ancient Israelites’ 40-year journey from captivity in Egypt to the Promised Land. They traveled through the wilderness, a disorienting and difficult period.

But they weren’t left to navigate it alone. God led them “by day in a pillar of a cloud . . . and by night in a pillar of fire” (Exodus 13:21). At times they struggled mightily, complaining that their leader, Moses, had surely brought them to this inhospitable place to die. Yet the account illustrates that they were never separated from God’s care. God provided fresh food and water to sustain them, and eventually they did reach the Promised Land.

This gentle reminder—that the source and substance of good isn’t a human, but divine Love—fortified me.

The lesson they needed to learn was that God preserves all His children. Their purpose, then, was not to merely survive, it was to trust and love God supremely! The New King James Version puts it this way: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4, 5).

In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, a glossary of biblical terms includes this twofold metaphysical definition of wilderness: “Loneliness; doubt; darkness. Spontaneity of thought and idea; the vestibule in which a material sense of things disappears, and spiritual sense unfolds the great facts of existence” (p. 597).

I applied this to the “wilderness experience” I was going through: Rather than fearing the unknown, I could trust the infinite to lead me. Whenever grief threatened to overwhelm me, these ideas roused me to embrace the wilderness in which “spiritual sense unfolds the great facts of existence.”

Those spiritual facts include God’s ever-present, constant love, which is expressed in each of us without measure. No matter the human circumstance, we are never separated from God’s sustaining, practical care. We can trust divine help and inspiration to meet the challenges of daily life.

As I glimpsed these truths, the grief and darkness lifted. I let go of a limiting reliance on human help alone. 

And this is when I embarked on a day’s hike in Desolation Wilderness. Seeing the sign, I suddenly realized in awe how far God had brought me through this trying time, sustaining and guiding me. Even when I thought what was dearest to me had been lost, I found that trust and love of God deeply blessed my life, which continued to expand and blossom in new and unexpected ways. 

On that granite crest, I felt free—free to love my stepdad, my mom, and our dog with gratitude instead of grief, and to let this love flow outward to others. I embraced the lesson of the wilderness!

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