The Wild Wilderness: A Fountain of Restoration

By: Toon Garritsen, Act Five Resident

When you open the squeaky door of Act Five at 75 Blake Street and make your way to the basement, you will find a quote by Wendell Berry on the basement wall. It says: “We go into the wilderness to be restored, to be instructed in the natural economies of fertility and healing, to admire what we cannot make”. (Wendell Berry, “Getting Along With Nature.”) When I think of wilderness, I imagine this really warm, comfortable picture of the sun shining through the trees, birds chirping and the fresh smell of pine. Who wouldn’t be restored by that image of the wilderness when they enter it? All wilderness is like that all the time, isn’t it? 

It is that quote by Wendell Berry, paired with my thirst for a physical challenge and the need of a break from normal routine that I set out with 16 others from Act Five (Students, Residents and Staff) to hike the Triple Crown Loop (part of the Appalachian Trail) in Virginia. 

On Pilgrimage

It was the morning before we would embark on our first day of hiking. We were challenged to view the hiking trip through the eyes of being a pilgrim, not a tourist. To be a pilgrim is to really focus on the journey piece of this trip, to take it one step at a time, one climb at a time, and one experience at a time. To be a tourist on this trip would mean to be so caught up in reaching the top of each peak (three total) that you forget the way you reached each peak. This was a sobering message that I crucially needed to hear. It allowed me to really make the most of this trip. 

And oh boy was it ever a journey. Out of the four days that we hiked, it rained almost each day in one way or another. We started day one in the pouring rain – great. Day three it rained ALL DAY LONG. Not just any rain either, it was a torrential downpour with high gusts of wind. The altitude that we hiked at meant that we were hiking at the rain cloud level for large portions of the trip, creating this white-out that really limited our opportunity for scenic views as you couldn’t see anything. Unironically, this only allowed us to focus on the journey, not the destination. God really has a unique sense of humour, doesn’t he? 

Answered Prayer

Despite the difficult challenges that we endured – including wet clothes, wet tents, wet sleeping bags, physical exhaustion from hiking, and being denied breathtaking views due to the whiteout created by the rain, it was still an incredible time of growth and restoration. We were a group of seven guys with nothing to do than to hike. We were without the distraction of our phones or watches (we weren’t allowed to bring either on the hike so we never knew what time it was). The only thing we could do to occupy ourselves was to walk and talk. We were able to have some really great conversations to get to know each other on a deeper level. We also reflected on the past eight months of living together. For me, however, the absolute coolest part of the trip was being reminded of God’s faithfulness. 

As I sit back and reflect on the trip, I don’t think there was a single prayer that any one of my group members or I prayed (that I am aware of at least) that wasn’t answered in one way or another. The morning before we departed on the hike we prayed as a group for safety, to be able to see God’s beauty, and to have a meaningful time with each other. Looking back, each of those prayers were answered. However, the most I have seen and felt God’s faithfulness in a long time occurred on day four. 

On day three, we were getting beat down with rain, and were denied another breathtaking view as we attempted our second peak due to whiteout. A few of us desperately prayed that God would replace the torrential downpour with blue skies and warm sunshine. We prayed that we could see all of the beautiful creation from McAfee’s Knob (the final peak that we would climb the following day). 

Well Worth The Wait

Our final day, day four, started no different than day three. It was cold, wet, and raining a bit. As we started our last peak climb though, we could slowly feel the clouds start to disappear. Another answered prayer! Then a short while later and after a bit more climbing we turned the corner and pure elation broke out. We had reached the top of our final peak! As each member finished their climb to the top a great euphoric “WOW” left their mouth. Everywhere you looked across the horizon, God’s beauty was reflected back at you. The horizon was painted by just about every shade of green imaginable. It was well worth the wait. 

Restoration Made Real

For me this was a great reminder of God’s unwavering love for me. It reminded me that even though at times I feel like God has put a “whiteout” in my life as I feel lost and I don’t trust what he is doing in my life, that it is still important to continue on the journey. It’s important because I know God will, at some point, show me a version of “McAfee’s Knob”. 

Does this mean that I have become this born again wilderness pilgrim always searching for the next view? It does not. I still don’t enjoy rain. I still prefer my mattress over a ½ inch sleeping mat. And, I really enjoy daily showers. Jesus entered the wilderness for forty days, I only entered it for four days. But Jesus was onto something. This nice idea that Wendell Berry paints about entering the beautiful, comfortable, and sunny wilderness filled with the smell of pine in order to be restored, it isn’t just an idea. It was actually real for me during these days. 

For me, entering the wilderness allowed me to be in touch with the presence of the Lord through nature. I got to see his faithfulness being lived out, and to experience his new mercies each and every day. While this is not the only way to experience restoration, I do think entering the wilderness for an extended period of time will allow you to really soak up God’s unfiltered, raw goodness.

If you haven’t already done something like this, I strongly recommend it.

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