devozine

For Youth Workers Post

WILDERNESS

Steve Matthews

“In the Habit” session for devozine meditations for July 28–August 3, 2014.

MAKING THE CONNECTION

“While I have had several wilderness experiences in my life, they have been internal. I have seldom found myself in a physical wilderness. But about eight years ago, I decided to spend the month of January on an island off the west coast of Ireland. Inishmore was a destination for early Christian monks who sought to experience God in solitude. It is an inhospitable place in many ways. It is often cold, wet, and windy. It is ten miles off the coast of Ireland in the North Atlantic. Getting to the island in a small boat 1300 years ago would have been an experience of wilderness.

“I took the ferry. My accommodations were rustic and cold; and before long, the romance of my adventure began to wane and loneliness set in. (I also got a stomach bug, which meant trying to figure out how to get to the doctor without a car.) About 800 people live on the island, so I was not in a true wilderness; but I felt as if I were. That month on Inishmore helped me to reconnect with God in a way that sitting in church or saying my prayers in my living room couldn’t. I took long walks on the cliffs, prayed, and experienced long periods of profound silence. In short, my wilderness experience brought me closer to God.

“To be able to plan my wilderness experience was a luxury. What happens to our faith when we are thrust into spiritual deserts where we feel threatened, alone, and insecure. Whether we face a failing relationship, an illness, a death, or a sense of failure, life events often leave us feeling as alone, vulnerable, and confused as we would if we were lost in the wilderness. As Christians, we can invite God into our wilderness and ask for help from the people around us. Perhaps the experience of wilderness is a new opportunity to discover how God accompanies us, even when we feel alone.” —Steve

MEET THE WRITER

devozine Steve Matthews IMG_0433Steve Matthews was a youth minister for more than fifteen years. At present, he is living in central Virginia on a small farm with two cats, one dog, and 22 chickens. He loves growing his own food, as well as cooking and eating it. Steve is working as a spiritual director and a consultant in “Contemplative Approaches to Ministry.” He is also working on a project with the Episcopal Church (missio:Engage!) that seeks to systematically redevelop parish ministries that are struggling with decline. He was a writer for The Way of Pilgrimage: An Adventure in Spiritual Formation for the Next Generation.

STUFF YOU WILL NEED

  • newsprint
  • markers
  • pens
  • Bibles or copies of 1 Kings 19:3–12 and Psalm 86
  • index cards
  • copies of the closing prayer
  • copies of Write your Own Psalm handout (see “Taking It Further”)
  • Print-Friendly Version of this session

PLUGGED IN

The movie clip “What Comes After Dust” from Where the Wild Things Are introduces the theme of feeling lost in the wilderness and having friends alongside us in difficult times.

Two other movie clips show how wilderness can be both an internal experience and an external challenge.

  • Two Years He Walks the Earth” from Into the Wildtells the story of a young man who seeks freedom and adventure, while running away from family conflict, and sets out on a solitary journey into the Alaskan wilderness.
  • A trailer from The Way tells the story of a jaded man who loses his son on a pilgrimage in Spain and decides to complete the pilgrimage for his son.

CHECKING IN

Begin this time with an opening ritual: a moment of silence, a short prayer the group says together, a candle-lighting to symbolize Christ’s presence. Take a moment to claim the space and time as holy.

Invite group members to reflect in silence:
       What in your life has resembled a wilderness experience? (The experience might be, for example, a camping trip, a day hike, a time when they were lost or were unprepared for bad weather.)

Bring group members together to talk about their experiences. Encourage them to listen to one another prayerfully without comment.

Then ask the question below, and encourage people to write the words on newsprint:
       What words describe your experience? (Did you feel alone, scared, vulnerable, excited, connected, happy, invigorated?)

EXPLORING THE WORD

Scriptures: 1 Kings 19:3–12

For the most part, we have limited experience with wilderness and with the unpredictability and indifference of harsh landscapes. Whether on top of a mountain or in a barren desert, we go few places where we are not a cell phone call away from help. Generally speaking, we are better insulated from pain and trials, both internal and external, than our ancestors were. Our life expectancy has increased with better nutrition and medical advancements. Our income often allows us to choose how and where we want to live. We can buy security systems to reduce the threat of intruders. Real life wilderness experiences have become something we can choose and plan, rather than being part of our day-to-day reality, as they were for much of human history.

Yet our suffering is timeless. We still get sick; we still suffer loss, disappointment, and abuse. Our experiences elicit feelings of isolation, fear, and disorientation—as much as being lost in the Sahara would.

As a prophet, Elijah understood rejection. Even though he was trying to be faithful to God, he was fearful and discouraged. Elijah’s life was in danger, and he was on the run.

Invite group members to read aloud 1 Kings 19:3–12. Then ask the questions below, and write the words on a sheet of newsprint:
       What words point to the physical wilderness that was part of Elijah’s journey?
       What words or phrases point to Elijah’s internal or spiritual wilderness?

Then invite discussion:
       When have you experienced a spiritual wilderness?
       How did God minister to Elijah?
       How does God accompany us in our times of trouble?
       What does Elijah’s experience of God “in the sound of sheer silence” mean to you?

SHARING IN PRAYER

Invite the group into a short period of silent prayer. Then ask them to read aloud the words of this “Canticle” from the North Umbria Community in England:

       Christ, as a light
       illumine and guide me.
       Christ, as a shield
       overshadow me.
       Christ under me;
       Christ over me;
       Christ beside me
       on my left and my right.
       This day be within and without me,
       lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
       Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;
       in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.
       This day be within and without me,
       lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
       Christ as a light;
       Christ as a shield;
       Christ beside me
       on my left and my right.

Close with this “Blessing,” inviting the group to respond with the words in bold:

       “May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,
       wherever He may send you.
       May He guide you through the wilderness,
       protect you through the storm.
       May He bring you home rejoicing
       at the wonders He has shown you.
       May He bring you home rejoicing
       once again into our doors.”
       “In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
       and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

TAKING IT FURTHER

  • Invite group members to read Psalm 86. Explain that voicing grief and frustration in our prayers has always been part of our faith tradition.
  • Distribute copies of the Write your Own Psalm handout from Loyola Press. Invite group members to complete the activity as a group or as individuals during the week.

—from devozine In the Habit (July/August 2014). Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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