Sunday, September 16, 2012

God and the Lake

I have been on a silent retreat for about the last 20 hours. We were at a camp on Lake Michigan about 25 minutes from my home. The weather was perfect: mid-70’s, sunny, with a mild breeze.

Over the years, Lake Michigan has become a place where I often feel God’s presence in a unique way. For me, it is one of those places that Celtic Christians might identify as a “thin place.” A thin place is a place where it is thought that heaven and earth come close, where God’s presence can be keenly felt. While I sometimes get this feeling at the top of a mountain, I nearly always get it at the shore of Lake Michigan or at the ocean.

There is something about being on the shoreline of a vast body of water that pushes one’s mind toward the Infinite. The perceived lack of boundaries combined with the uncontrollable power of the lake reminds me of God. Like the powerful lake, God is not a being you approach without due caution. As the Beaver’s in C. S. Lewis’s classic tale say of Aslan, he is not safe, but he is good.

And indeed that is true of both God and the lake. To not respect the lake is to court death. And so it is with God.

This past summer I learned to sail. It was a beautiful, thirty foot boat (that’s the technical term J), with a single mast. As I looked at the lake this morning and at a sailboat on the lake, I thought of my experience. In a sailboat, the captain can make decisions about the direction the boat will take to some extent. But she cannot tell the lake or the wind what to do. To try to ignore the currents and the wind and do her own thing would be foolish.

The first thing the captain must do is submit to the wind and the lake. Only then will she make progress.

Unfortunately, as I thought about my relationship to God, it seemed to me that I spend much of my time fighting with him, rather than submitting to him and his will. Perhaps that is why my progress is limited.

Sailing can be a struggle when the wind and the lake seem to be against you. You can get stuck in one spot if the wind suddenly stops. Or you can get blown in a direction you did not intend if you are not paying close attention. It can be frustrating. And God’s ways in my life can be frustrating too. But deciding to do it my way will inevitably be even more frustrating.

The key, of course, is trusting the One who knows me better than anyone, the one who knit me together in my mother’s womb and loves me more than any human ever will. Trusting a God who is not safe can be hard. But remembering that he is good and will always do what is best for the kingdom can make that task just a bit easier. I am so glad today that my life, my future, my hope, is in his hands.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Camping and Daily Bread

I like to camp.

When the children were young, camping allowed our family to travel to a variety of places on a limited budget. Plus, kids really like being able to fool around in the woods with sticks, stones, leaves, and whatever else they can find. Boring and camping just don’t go together in our experience.

And we were not the sort of campers who had to bring along everything from home. We didn’t bring bikes, television, or toys. We did bring books, board games, and marshmallow sticks but other than things like that, entertainment was as wide as our children’s imaginations.

Over the years, we probably tented the most, although we did have a nice little pop-up camper for about seven years. It was pretty basic as campers go with very few comforts of home. But it was more comfortable than a tent.

A few years back, having camped in a tent for about six more years, I decided I had done enough sleeping on the ground. I also thought that, unlike our old pop-up, I would like a bathroom on site. Midnight walks to the bathroom can be scary. So I bought a new little trailer.

And it has some bells and whistles. It has a fridge with a freezer, a small bathroom, an oven, and even a microwave (although we so rarely have electricity where we camp that the microwave is more of an extra cupboard than an appliance). It is really nice.

I love camping because I love waking up in beautiful places and going to sleep with the sounds of the woods all around me. But I also like camping because it reminds me of what is necessary in life.

In this modern world, it is so easy for me to think that I really need this or that new thing. Maybe it’s a new phone, or an iPad, or a pair of shoes, or a new countertop. But when I camp, I realize how little I really do need. In fact, back in our tenting days, I realized that I could get by with the barest of necessities. Even my new little trailer, although much less work than tenting, still has very few of the things that people at home would think they could never live without.

And that is the best reason for me to camp. It reminds me that when I pray for ‘daily bread,’ it is a prayer for necessities. My mind tends to have a list of banquet-like “needs,” but Jesus’ own prayer helps me remember that not only should I be sharing the abundance that God has entrusted to my care, but that my ultimate need is not for more stuff, but for more bread from heaven. Jesus said “I am the bread of life.” That is what I most need. And having little, even if only a few times per year, keeps my true need in focus.