I lay sprawled out on my office floor fighting a fever, my head foggy as if someone had injected jello into my nasal cavity and my throat burning as if someone tried to scrape wallpaper from its lining. I never get sick, but this cold placed my solo decent to the floor of the Grand Canyon in jeopardy. No it didn't. I knew I would go, fever or not, and I did.
I spent the first cool night on the canyon rim curled-up in the fetal position in the only free lodging around, the back of my Nissan Sentra. It had plenty of room to spread out if you reside in Munchkin Land, but for an average 5'10" American, it simply provided a long night of waiting for the sun to rise. It did. It always does and when it did I began my 11 mile decent. I would describe the beauty of the journey, but I lack the writing skills to do it justice. Let's just say, even though I arrived with dried snot smeared across my face, exhausted from the ill-timed fever it was well-worth the discomfort.
As night covered the canyon, I sat alone outside my tent, swallowed by its grandiosity and God made me cry. He wasn't bullying me or making fun of my name. He simply whispered, "HERE I AM!" I felt him. I felt small. I felt peace.
Not everyone drools over the outdoors adventure like I do. Many people's idea of roughing it consists of a willingness to settle for a 4-star hotel, and while I do not want to rewire anyone's circuitry I do suggest camping as a spiritual discipline - yes, a spiritual discipline like scripture meditation, fasting, prayer, and anything else Richard Foster would suggest. Here are three ways I think camping forms our souls...
[Note: There are 1001 ways to camp, but I prefer, first, backpack camping where everything you need you carry on your person. Second, tent camping (usually done with my family)].
- SIMPLICITY. Camping strips you of all life's bells and whistles and all its hustle and bustle leaving the basics exposed. You have two concerns when you camp: food and shelter. Once you pitch your tent, your next major decision, "When do I cook lunch?" You do not need a day-planner. Automobile traffic is not welcome. If you are remote enough, nature renders your phone useless- no emails, checking the score, or crafting the next clever tweet. No drive-through exists to encourage you to hurry your lunch. Camping is simple and when your life slows down you become aware of the nuggets of life you normally speed past.
- MEDITATION/CONTEMPLATION. When you camp alone, The Great Outdoors demands a vow of silence. You can talk to the squirrels, but it is always a one-sided conversation. The moment the squirrel talks back, it's time to return to the city. The vow of silence has a way of cleansing your system. After a few hours of worrying about all you are not doing back home, nature forces you to be honest with yourself, "How am I doing? Why am I afraid? Why do I behave as I do? Why am I so hurt?" When the squirrels refuse to engage in dialogue, you find yourself talking to God.
- COMMUNITY. Solo-camping is not the only way to camp. I love pitching the 6-man tent, blowing up the air-mattresses (look out Hilton) and spending a couple of nights in the wilderness with my family or friends. With no TV to numb your mind and dull your conversation, with no rooms to compartmentalize your family, with no work or school to consume your thoughts, camping guides you back to relationship. When you camp with someone, you set up shelter, you cook together...and then you...uhhh...you just ARE together. Every night you gather around a camp fire and you do three things: you stare at the fire, "Fi-re!" You throw stuff in the fire. You talk. When you return to the basics, you often find yourself returning to what is most important: relationship.