I’ve had that question many times.
Is God out there — Somewhere?
If so, how does God get into my head, speaking to me in “that still small voice?”
I know, the Bible says that “it is not here, not there — the Kingdom of God is within you.”
But I’m never sure what is meant by “within you.”
Some think it means God is inside each one of us, individually. Others say God is within us, as a group.
I assume they mean the “wherever two or three are gathered together” sort of grouping.
When I was a kid, a summer camp counselor sometimes said he was going off to the woods to “commune with God.” This was still when I thought the sacred place to be with God was in a church. It was a surprise to me that he would go “out into nature” to be with God.
But then, there is the God is omniscient idea, that God is ever-present, everywhere.
I’m more like my camp counselor. Whenever I am on a hike I do believe I am in sacred space out in the fields and hills.
I don’t think much about the, “if-where-or-how” to be with God.
I just know I have what I call a sacred relationship to “Something” higher and other than me when I am hiking. And know that it is in and beyond the birds, trees, rocks and brooks, beyond all forest dwellers as well.
My experience is indescribable. That may well be why its source is given so many names — God, Supreme Being, Infinite Spirit, The One, Universal Consciousness, and so forth.
God or not, the world of nature is a sacred place. I go there mostly for that experience which is very much like what I when walking through the great doors of Notre Dame Cathedral, where my wife and I are always thrilled when we are in Paris.
Neither Out There — Nor In Here
Probably my most enlightening idea about God came after I had become an atheist.
Yes, for a few months (or more) during my college days, it was very much like back in child-hood when I left my belief in Santa Claus.
I’d found out that God did not answer my prayerful pleas as readily as I assumed He would.
But after letting everyone know that I no longer believed, I got to thinking about what the God-thing was that I no longer believed in.
At that time I was also beginning to look for answers to some big, metaphysical questions.
Like what’s it all for? What purpose was there to life? Like the endless regressive questions about what is the smallest atom in the microscope made of? And what might be discovered by the scientific metaphysics guys like Einstein who were looking for a “unified theory of everything?”
And a whole lot of other questions for which I couldn’t find answers.
But mostly it was coming to realize that on the grand scale we are so enormously “lucky” — to even be alive, on an earth that occupies such a small, unique place in the vast uninhabitable cosmos and wondering why the whole universe held together, and didn’t come loose at the hinges.
So, okay, out under a vast starry-night sky, how could I deny a Great Divine Something held it all together. Call it God, if you like. Or Infinite Spirit, One Essence, Universal Consciousness.
Did I need to give It a name?
And this great cosmic design, with all its laws that hold things together, while giving planets and stars movements and tracks to follow so as not to aimlessly bump into one another and blow things to smitherines,
All right, I thought, I accept that. For it is an intellectual way of getting at the experience I have in the woods.
But really, the sacred experience is not rational. Reasoning, I could see, was a way for we unimportant beings on this tiny planet, in the whole scheme of things, to get a way to get hold of the indescribable experience and fin great release and freedom out there, alone on a trail.
I mentioned the word, “alone.”
For I don’t get the same sacred experience when I’m talking with someone on a hike.
Nor is it still quite the same when I’m with someone and we aren’t talking.
There are occasional hikers I spend time on the trail though, who while we talk only about things that are necessary, it still isn’t quite the same as it is when I am alone.
The Way We Camped
I had a perfect daily routine though, with a guy who I used to backpack with in the Maroon-Bells Wilderness out in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.
After we’d set up camp, we’d have breakfast together. Then we each went off on our own, in our own direction, away from camp, and away from each other.
We would spend our time alone the rest of the day, just as we liked.
Then, about an hour before dinner, we returned to camp . And we’d chat until bed time.
He was a free-lance photographer. So he would head off to shoot pictures.
And, like my camp counselor of my childhood, I would go off to “commune” with Nature or God, give It whatever name you like.
The experience is what counted.
I have such great memories of times when I’ve been “out there” somewhere, alone, and immersed in nature.
A Good Book About Immersion in Nature
There is a book that best describes this experience.
I’ve read again and again, maybe a dozen times.
The author describes his experience of settling down and sinking into nature better than any other I’ve ever read.
It is Colin Fletcher’s account of his solo hike end-to-end in the Grand Canyon.
He was first to do this end-to-ender in one continuous stretch.
He arranged for food and supplies to be stashed at critical points in the canyon where he would need them, so that he would not need to break the solitariness of his long hike to go out for food and supplies.
He thus was able to absolutely meld into the canyon sand, rocks, cactus, even with creatures.
His encounter with a rattle snake is one of the most enchanting descriptions of his long walk.
The title is The Man Who Walked Through Time.
Each time I’ve read it, it raises an empathetic rhythm of nature with which I can immerse myself.
I know of no other book that does this for me.
Many others attempt it.
And some become highly popular with people unfamiliar directly with the experience.
But Colin’s book appeals to those of us who know it well.
No other book gets it as perfectly.
He has me with him from his first evening camped in the Havasu side-canyon before entering the wide, wide Grand Canyon on the Great Thumb Mesa.
We are all together, on the same page in the great book of eternity, at these times alone, all alone, in the vastness of the great outback.