Recently, I had the opportunity to go backpacking with some of the coolest high school seniors I have ever met. After some travel time getting to Yosemite National Park we began our hike in Tuolumne Meadows. Although all of us are blessed daily with experiencing God’s beautiful creation here in the Roaring Fork Valley, we were all taken aback by the serenity and beauty of this place. Lush green meadows carpeted the valley floor while snow covered ridges funneled us toward the pass we would cross the next day. I am always struck between the dichotomy between packing everything into a car and rushing to a trailhead and the peace of having nothing to do all day except hike. At first, I find myself trying to fill up or change this simplicity. It’s hard to rest in the silence when you’re so accustomed to noise. You might find me whistling, humming, or even just talking more than usual because I’m trying to fill the void. Isn’t it ironic how much we crave peace and quiet but also how it can be almost daunting once you find it? Many of the Pacific Crest Trail hikers we passed on our trip (who had already walked 900 miles by the time we were seeing them) had earbuds in and were listening to music. What is it about us that draws us outside and to the remote places where we can find solitude but also encourages us to build buffers to the very things we are looking for?
In many ways I think we do the same thing in our spiritual lives. Both silence and solitude are disciplines that are difficult to maintain in the day and age in which we live. I know I need (and even crave) daily times of solitude and prayer with my creator but at the same time I put up buffers that get in the way. Sometimes when I’m praying I find myself doing all the talking and none of the listening. Other times I schedule so much activity around this time that I don’t really have a chance to actually have a quiet time. I know that time with God is my sustenance but at the same time I often have amnesia to this fact and build walls in between Him and myself. All of this has brought me to think about Luke 6:12-19. In this passage Jesus went off (to the mountains) by himself to be with God and pray. He’s gearing up for choosing His disciples and launching into ministry with the Sermon on the Mount. The rescue mission from God to all of humanity is a “go”. I like to think He was probably pretty excited at this point but yet he turned first to prayer and time with His father. Jesus’ focus on solitude with and through prayer was extremely challenging to me. If Jesus Himself needed solitude and time set apart with God then how much more do we need those same blessings. One of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen, points out that Jesus was very intentional in how He moves from solitude to building the community of the disciples to His public ministry. First solitude, then community, then ministry. This is an especially important reminder for us who live fast paced time we call the 21st century. Isn’t it easy to jump directly into community and ministry? With so many buffers to solitude we need to remain intentional in how we root ourselves in prayerful time with Jesus because this is the foundation we stand on when we enter the community and minister through all our individual callings.