August 19, 2019
Weekly Reflection – Drawing Near to God
Drawing Near to God: It is a good thing to come closer to God and be transformed into His image into a new creature.
It seems to me that three components make up one’s path to this closeness and the new creation: 1. Knowing ABOUT God, 2. Knowing what to do or how to behave, and 3. Experiencing a direct relationship with God. My focus this morning is on the third component, experiencing a relationship with God. Not just knowing about God as we learn in the Bible and not just answering the “What must I do?” question. But a real and personal relationship that is akin to that of long-time friends who can simply sit quietly together, never saying a word. It is a relationship that exists beyond words or concepts or human logic.
I want to share a few examples of my efforts to achieve such a relationship. I could tell you of a night I spent on top of Mount Sinai (a real mountain top experience) or the week I spent at the synagogue in Capernaum, soaking in the teaching of Jesus that he presented there.
However, another way I seek to draw near to God is through focused time in nature. About once or twice a year, I go off on what I call a “silent backpacking retreat.” This retreat involves silence and solitude and simplicity in the midst of nature. I like to say that God; can’t get a word in edgewise if I am doing all the talking. So I need to be quiet.
My most dramatic example of a silent backpacking retreat occurred about five years ago. I flew to Kauai on the island of Hawaii and hiked the challenging Kalalau Trail. This trail consisted of 11 miles of continual elevation change along the rocky Na Pali coast…all while carrying 30 pounds on my back. You can see from the photo below that I was pretty fit the afternoon before the hike.
I set out at the crack of dawn pm the day of my hike. It took 12 exhausting hours to cover the 11 miles. It was not the distance that wore me out as much as the 4500 feet of up and down elevation change And the crawlers ledge” with its quarter of a mile three-foot-wide path and a 200-foot drop straight into the Pacific if I were to slip or lose my balance.
Along the way, I was exposed to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Off to the right was the pacific ocean. On the left were plants and trees and behind them steep cliffs that rose high above where I was.
At about the ten-mile mark I came upon a famous sign announcing that you are now entering the Kalalau beach area.
And then you get to Kalalau beach. I set up camp about 100 yards from the water’s edge and remained in silence and near my tent for the next two days. It was a time for Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina, and just being still. Along the way, I was treated to the continual murmur of surf coming onto the beach. The stars at night were spectacular, as were the sunsets. My senses were filled up.
This trip was where I learned the truth in a quote that is attributed to the eleventh-century monk, Bernard of Clairvaux:
“YOU WILL DISCOVER THINGS IN THE WOODS THAT YOU NEVER FOUND IN BOOKS. STONES AND TREES WILL TEACH YOU THINGS THAT YOU NEVER HEARD FROM YOUR SCHOOLTEACHERS.”
Other, more practical, ways in which I seek silence and solitude include merely going to a particular “quiet zone” in my home or going fishing like I did last week in Rockport.
Then, a couple of times a year, I visit a Monastery in Kentucky where they have signs on each table in the lunchroom saying, “Silence is spoken here.” It is a good language to learn!
And oh, yes, as I submit to this intimate relationship with God and experience my own personal transformation, it is also a time to, as James says in James 4:8, “Cleanse your unclean hands and purify your heart.” That is another challenge, one that at times can seem even greater than hiking the Kalalau Trail.
Blessings and peace,
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