God is in the Wilderness

There are days when I wonder if The Matrix is a documentary. I wake up, check my phone, go to my computer and work for 8 hours or more, and then relax in the evening reading on some device. The constant connection seems worse than ever (and I killed all social media accounts in 2017 with the exception of LinkedIn). While I’m interested in the science behind all this, I am not writing about dopamine hits and social anxiety. I’m writing about the soul.


Computers and related devices are not inherently good or evil; they’re simply tools. I happen to use these tools a lot, and our information-based economy pressures many others to do the same. For many of us, particularly since COVID hit, turning on a computer is often the same as walking into the office doors. I don’t know about you, but when I turn on my laptop for personal use, I have some associative thoughts about work.


Sometimes I need to disconnect in order to reboot.


There are few places where technology has no reach. Even if computers are put away, phones are frequently accompanying people through every moment of the day.


The exception lies in a good portion of campsites, National Parks and Forests, and other wilderness areas. What may be Henry David Thoreau’s most famous quote begins with, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately”. This little line from Walden sums up this point: it takes an affirmative action to walk away from all the connectivity, devices, and work.


And why would you do this? More on this later, but as an introduction, I camp for recreation. It sounds simple and it is. But, recreation is more than just fun. It’s “re-creation”. Let’s revisit Genesis 1:27.


“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (RSVCE).


In the creation account, we were face-to-face with God, communing with Him, and enjoying His creation. The modern foray into the wilderness is called camping. And when we go camping, especially if we are fortunate enough to lose cell reception, we are alone with our family and friends, and God. The setting is similar to the Garden of Eden in some very important ways. We are able to look at our companions and not look away from our screens or other work, to accompany them on adventures, and to attend to their needs. It gives the opportunity to not just hear, but listen.


It’s true that there are difficulties while camping. For one, the gear can be expensive up-front (but at least well-made gear will last for a very long time). On a personal note, I live in the Gold Rush area of California. There are snakes, bears, mountain lions, coyotes, etc. Isn’t that terrifying? Not exactly. For the most part, these animals leave you alone (unlike the serpent in the Garden).


For all the objections to camping, I find none of the arguments compelling when presented with this: when the distractions are removed, and you can focus on your relationship with God and others, your life is enriched beyond all measure. I’ve seen a shirt that says, “I'm what you would call indoorsy”, and that’s fine. But still, I recommend pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone and going out into the wilderness.


Some of the greatest Saints, as well as Jesus Himself, went into the wilderness and received spiritual benefits. Saint Anthony of the Desert cut himself off from civilization and became known as the “Father of Monasticism”. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was a mountain climber who wrote the words Verso l’alto (“toward the top”) on the back of a photograph of his last climb. It later became associated with the spiritual journey. Jesus went to the wilderness to pray (Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16) and rest (Mark 6:31).


God has used nature to reveal Himself to us in various ways. It was used in Scripture from the general assertion that nature proclaims God’s greatness (Job 12:7-10, Psalm 96:11-12, Isaiah 43:20) to the specific instances of the Great Flood (Genesis 7:6-8:22), the Burning Bush (Exodus 2:23–3:6), God’s presence in the Pillar of Fire and Cloud (Exodus 13:23-22).


Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” When you go into the wilderness, whether you are camping under the stars in the desert, in a tent in the mountains, or even taking a quiet walk on the beach, it allows you to calm your thoughts and worries, and hear His voice that may have been drowned out with all the hustle and bustle of everyday life.


Don’t hear what I’m not saying. I don’t mean to say that technology or modern life in suburbia or metropolises is bad. I’m simply saying that when I go camping or spend any significant and meaningful time in God’s creation, I am able to recharge and, in a sense, be re-created.

Stephen Muff, Esq, MPA is a Catholic Christian who lives in Northern California with his wife and two daughters. He serves on his parish council and is participating in a three-year faith formation program for the laity. He is licensed to practice law in Washington State and DC and currently works in-house for a financial technology company.