I was sitting in a large auditorium
with a hundred or so other students, listening to a lecture on philosophy by a remarkable professor, when I realized there wasn’t a thing in that room that was “natural.”
I searched around for a leaf or twig.
There was not even a clod of earth, blade of grass, bird, chipmunk or leaf.
I was there, in wide-eyed innocence, seeking some measure of The Truth.
Many of us, when we enter the halls of academia, are seeking to find answers to life’s biggest questions.
And this professor was exceptionally inspiring, which bespoke the large number of students in his Philosophy class.
None of us had to be there. It wasn’t a “required” course.
Professor Trapp had a reputation for his illuminating lectures.
Still, while I profited greatly from his lectures, my real pursuit of The Truth took me outdoors.
A Peek Beneath the Veil
One day I was chatting with another seeker.
She and I chatted as we walked across the campus lawn, which was not very large for this was a city university. I was not alone with my “big questions.” She too was curious.
She was a lovely, intelligent, self-confident Catholic girl who was also in a couple other of my classes.
We were discussing some fine points of philosophy that we had just heard in Professor Trapp’s lecture. I wanted to put them into the context of politics, for I was interested in “changing the world.”
Somehow we got around to Jesus. Back then I had a lot of trouble with religion.
I also was fond of spouting off sharp little epithets I picked up from books, so I quoted the British philosopher, David Hume.
“While it is contrary to our experience for miracles to be true; it is not contrary to our experience for testimony about them to be false.”
I stated my position, that, “Yes, Jesus was a very inspiring political leader, but he certainly was not the Son of God.”
She listened politely while, in my swaggering pedantry, I “explained” how Jesus was born at a particular period of history, under the autocratic, oppressive rule of Roman Emperors.
I went on about Jews being subjected to Roman tyranny waiting passionately for the coming of the Messiah to relieve their suffering.
I said, “Wasn’t Jesus just Johnny-on-the-spot during this unique confluence of historical events? But, don’t we tend to see what we want to see?”
“That certainly is true,” she said.
I was on a roll
I said, “Jesus did not have to walk on water, turn water into wine or raise the dead to convince anyone of his political power.”
“That’s true,” she said.
And to my point, “Jesus was certainly a strong, courageous and good man.”
She smiled and nodded.
“Isn’t it even more inspiring to believe Jesus was a great leader who gave himself so totally to ‘the cause of righteousness’ that he allowed himself to become a martyr?”
“Good way of seeing it,” she said.
“The crucifixion should have been the end of his crusade,” I said. “But it was just the beginning of his world-wide influence, that Jesus called followers to lift the burdens of the poor, the sick, persecuted and weak. And he urged all of us to love our enemies. Wasn’t that a great political strategy?”
“Yes,” she said, “the hope and joy of Easter follows the darkness of his crucifixion on Good Friday.”
I warmed to the discussion, having made what I thought strong arguments. It seemed I was winning her over to my point of view.
I felt the exhilaration of the spring breeze as we moseyed along barefoot in the grass, shoes in our hands.
This sort of “discussion” as I called it, was much freer than dull as dust textbooks.
“It is the political inspiration of this good man, Jesus,” I said, “and his power of goodness, that spread across the world for two thousand years.”
She was looking down at the grass as we walked, a soft smile on her lips.
“But don’t you see,” I said, “our culture has vested its image of Jesus with what it wants to believe – magic and miracles – to get what they secretly want from life?”
We ambled along in the balmy afternoon sunshine.
My lovely friend let flutter from her lips quite innocently, “So what is it you call a miracle?”
The question floated out upon the spring air more like the twittering of a chickadee than a philosophical question.
I ruminated as though chewing a blade of grass.
‘What is a miracle? Just what is a miracle,’ I thought, while our bare feet whispered in the grass.
‘Miracle?’ The idea gently tickled my mind.
Finally I said, “A miracle is an event which the forces of nature —including the natural powers of man— cannot produce.”
She allowed the conversation to flitter away into the wind.
While it may not have anything to do with our having been outdoors, I believe this understanding would not have come inside a classroom, for if in class, both of our heads would already have been full of many of the ideas we brought with us.
Solitude of Wilderness
Thereafter, my pursuit of The Truth was more fruitful when I fled friends, family and comfort to the solitude of nature.
At first my flight to wilderness was only relief from a world going increasingly insane.
Eventually though, wilderness became a truer teacher than lectures, books and classrooms.
It may seem excessive for me to liken a grassy campus lawn with “wilderness.”
But there really is a sharp distinction between the barrenness of plastic, wood and metal classrooms and bare feet in the grass.
At least it was a start.
Getting back to nature made it possible to give up all ideas and see things fresh, as if for the first time.
Like Descartes’ purging his mind, it cleared my mind of all notions I had of all things, enabling me to discover in a fresh, new way some simple basic truths.
Come Explore With Me
I invite you to come along with me to some of the most remote wilderness areas in America in my series of blog posts.
The adventure will play out on three levels.
First, there will be the wilderness experiences, of being exposed to the raw elements of nature on backpacking, cross-country skiing, horse-packing, offshore sailing and mountaineering jaunts.
Next, there are the intellectual journeys ordinarily described in books. We’ll examine ideas underlying and coloring the appearance of things that are ordinarily hidden from view.
Finally, the adventure will take us deep into the innermost core of our being, where limitless possibilities exist before the intellect allows one inclination or another to manifest as an idea in our mind.
These adventures speak to the heart.
They raised troubling questions for me. I have consistently opted for The Truth, rather than settle for shallower, more comfortable answers.
You may want to share this spiritual quest with me.
I say spiritual, for it has more to do with intuition than reason and logic.
The questions that I grappled with in the wilds were only new to me of course. They are ages old, of course, like “What am I” “What is it all about?” “What is the purpose of life?”
They more easily arise in mind outdoors because they are as primitive as the mountains and canyons.
I agree with John Locke’s observation that, “There are so few lovers of Truth for Truth alone.”
That’s as all Scriptures say, in one way or another, “Of thousands, one perchance, will seek The Truth; and of a thousand of those, few will know it in full.”
God is Within
Paradoxically, I did not actually find The Truth out there. The wilderness was merely a place to carry on my search.
At the end though, I found the secrets were not where I expected, but more as Augustine said, “In vain I sought without for Him who was within myself.”
So it was that the wilderness “out there” turned me back into the wilderness “in here.”
Once the mysteries began to be revealed, the answers seemed all too simple. And all too obvious.
I began to see them everywhere.
And hear them from everyone.
I was like a child discovering the meaning of words.
In the beginning the child cannot understand the words adults are speaking. Their meaning escapes the little one, of course, as if “hidden in plain view.”
When the child finally understands their meanings it is a great joy. Nothing changes, except the significance of the words. It’s just a simple shift that takes place within the mind of the child when it understands a new word.
That is how it was with this greater understanding. Things are already there as though “hidden in plain sight.”
It really is simple. While you are here at this blog, just do not accept what I say, nor reject it. Just allow it to come to rest in the mind and see what happens.
Join me in my next post on this theme. And for goodness sake, if you have something to add, post it down below for the rest of us.