“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
That’s a quote from John Muir, printed on a poster that has been in my office for years.
It tugs at the best places of my soul. It is about what I believe as a Christian pastor. For some a forest is foreboding. To others, a forest is trees = lumber = money. And there are those who are thankful we have mountains, but for “soul-tugging” they prefer an ocean’s rhythm or the vibrancy of a big city.
I hope everyone has a way to enter into the Universe and feel truly connected. It is important to note that Muir intentionally capitalized Universe. As a young man the worst parts of religion—fearing God, guilt, sin—were hammered into him by an overbearing father. Wilderness became the place of Muir’s redemption and renewal. The Universe (which means “one song”) was one of Muir’s ways to describe the Creator and Creation, the Mystery, the One.
I too am forever thankful for my wilderness experiences.
On a recent church backpack, while several of us took a day hike from our camp by a lake, I dropped behind the group. I was, for long moments, alone on a trail that would eventually take us to higher elevation and another lake.
As I walked, as it has happened in the past, the forest “spoke” to me.
The granite whispered. The sky, as blue as it was true, shared the secret again. The music of nearby birds joined in, and the slight breeze nudged me to listen carefully. In this place, the One Song, says, “You are not needed.” I believe that. In this forest of sublime beauty, I and all other humans could disappear, and it wouldn’t matter. Without humans, the forest would still thrive, still grow, be transformed by fire and covered by snow. The marmots would still sleep 23.7 hours a day; bears would still scratch their claws on bark.
I know there is no way for me to grow a lodgepole pine, or to make granite glow like living flame in the sunset any more boldly than it does already.
I am not needed.
And yet, how much I need this place. Every word I write about the Universe of the forest is inadequate. Every step I take in its interior is transitory. But I can’t not write the words. I can’t not take the steps.
What a privilege it is to enter inside the Universe. Not once, in the mountains, have I felt small or insignificant. Nonetheless, I know I am not needed for the mountains to be the mountains. But, in my brief times there, I almost always have a few moments, a few glimpses, which tug at my soul and create and re-create me into being a better person.
Where is your place? Where is your belief nurtured and deepened?
Where do you take the steps into the One Song, where your troubled soul is comforted, where your arrogance is humbled, where your dreams become like soaring trees and shining granite and you experience songs of joy?
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