Wild Trek

For many years now I have had this mental image from a favorite childhood book.  I would think of it at odd times while lying in my dorm room, or in my first apartment, or in all the apartments that came after.  It was an adventure novel of two men, braving the wilderness and struggling to survive against daunting odds.  It was the type of rough-hewn, straight-talking, no-holds-barred kind of wilderness adventure that – to the extent possible for young readers – lacked any hint of sentimentality.  Here were two men calling upon every shred of human ingenuity to survive against savage beasts, fierce elements, and harrowing terrain.

And then it happened.

One man was left waiting in a cave while his companion scouted ahead.  Despite all the hardships he had already endured, this man suddenly realizes that loneliness is the worst.  He manages to trap a snowshoe hare for food, but instead of killing the rabbit, this survival-toughened mountain man builds a small cage and gathers blades of grass.  This is the image that has travelled with me: even more than food, companionship is the greatest human need.

I recently endeavored to find this story.  I was pretty sure who the author was, and although I couldn’t remember exactly which book, I thought I would know it when I saw it.  I pulled all of Jim Kjelgaard’s books from my shelf – I even reread a couple – but the one I was looking for was not there.  I went to the library to expand my search, and as soon as I cracked the cover, I knew I had found it.  A couple hundred pages later, I was reading the words that had left such a powerful image all those years before.

“It seemed that anything was bearable as long as somebody or something was present to offer companionship.  No man was really sufficient unto himself; this loneliness was far worse than the hunger that gnawed at his belly.  Antray pulled his belt in, but he could not alleviate the gnawing in his mind as easily… Night came and he looked again at the rabbit.  He was hungry, hungrier than he had ever been before, it seemed, but he wasn’t lonely.  He’d save the rabbit…” Jim Kjelgaard, Wild Trek1

The Bible tells us that a cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).  This passage undergirds numerous spiritual lessons, from an understanding of the Trinity to the strength of marriage vows bound between husband, wife, and God.  But here’s a more general underpinning: It is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).

God has sent each one of us on a rough-hewn, straight-talking, no-holds barred wilderness adventure.  But He never intends for us to travel alone.  The truth of this statement is what burned this story’s image so indelibly into my heart.  Haven’t you, too, experienced the power of companionship?  Haven’t you yearned for it, been blessed by it, shared it?

Thank God for the blessing of companionship.  Then look around you, and seek out opportunities to spread this blessing to others.

“But if we are the body, why aren’t His arms reaching?  Why aren’t His hands healing?   Why aren’t His words teaching? And if we are the body, why aren’t His feet going?  Why is His love not showing them there is a way?”  ~Casting Crowns “If We are the Body”

 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:36)

 

1Kjelgaard, J. (1950.) Wild Trek. New York: Bantam Books

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Speed Reading

At any given moment, I have a stack of at least a dozen books that I am reading concurrently.  Some end up taking me months to read; others ensnare me and I finish them in days.  But always there is this stack, beckoning me.  I listen to books on CD in the car and around the house.  I set an open book before me while I eat; I have a pile by my bed for those moments right before sleep.  Even now, while I am typing this, I have a sandwich on my plate next to my laptop so that I can take a bite between words.  Reading them.  Writing them.  It’s almost a compulsion.

The other night I pulled from my stack One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp.  I set it on the table next to my dinner plate and proceeded to stumble through her opening text, tripping over her lyrical style in my rush to turn the page between forkfuls.  “This could have been written so much simpler,” I thought in frustration.  It was only the high acclaim of the book that kept me from relegating it to the bottom of my stack.  Yes, I admit it.  Sometime it takes me a long time to understand the obvious point.  And here is the obvious point: this is not a book that can be shoveled in alongside a plateful of spaghetti.

After dinner, I moved Ann’s book to my “quiet reading” stack, where it is much more at home.One Thousand Gifts Cover

Ann Voskamp’s style serves an interesting purpose for me.  It forces me to slow down.  It is this trait that initially frustrated me… and ultimately has endeared me.  I don’t like to slow down in anything, least of all my reading.  There is so much more to read!  But Ann’s style forces me to slow down.  To read deliberately.  To consider the words.  To taste the flavor of them.  To think.  When I let go of the clock, when I accept the fact that I will not “finish this one and start the next one” tonight, it becomes a richer experience.  This is not unintentional.

“Time is life,” Ann writes.  “And if I want the fullest life, I need to find the fullest time.”

She continues her story, standing at the sink, scrubbing dishes:

I wipe a water spot off the tap; there is a reflection of me.  Oh, yes, I know you, the busyness of your life leaving little room for the source of your life.  I’m the face grieving.

God gives us time.  And who has time for God?

Which makes no sense.

In Christ, don’t we have everlasting existence?  Don’t Christians have all the time in eternity, life everlasting?  If Christians run out of time – wouldn’t we lose our very own existence?  If anyone should have time, isn’t it the Christ-followers? (p. 64)

If anyone should have time, isn’t it the Christ-followers?

It is not a rhetorical question, and I consider my answer.  God gives us all things.  He gives us enough of all things.  Why, in this particular area, do I act as though He does not?  Why do I say, almost daily, “God, I do not have enough time!”

I do not learn quickly.  I still sit here, keyboard at one hand, sandwich at another.  Still trying to cram disparate activities into the same moment.  But later tonight, I will pause.  I will think “I do not have time for this,” but I will do it anyway.  I will curl up on my couch with my dog’s head resting on my knee.  I will take just one book from my quiet reading stack.  I will read just one chapter.  Slowly, deliberately, thoughtfully.  I will not speed read.

It will be enough.

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.”  My times are in your hand… (Psalm 31:14-15a).

Remember the Enemy

If you haven’t read The Hunger Games trilogy but plan to, you may wish to skip over this post.  But if you’ve already read through book two, or don’t mind reading it after a spoiler, then come along.  I think you’ll find this interesting.

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is a young adult series set in the territory of a post-United States.  A dictatorial government has taken control, and one of its severest forms of suppression is to choose through a lottery each year a group of adolescents who must fight to the death in a televised arena.  One winner emerges victorious and is provided with a house and a lifetime supply of food for them and their family.  It’s a bit of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” Roman gladiators, and Survivor reality t.v. all rolled into one.

In book two, just before she goes into the arena for the second time, Katniss Everdeen is given a very important piece of advice from her mentor: “Remember who the real enemy is.”

Katniss knows who the real enemy is, alright.  It isn’t the people in the arena with her; it’s the governmental powers who put them there in the first place.  In the heat of the arena, however, it isn’t always easy to focus on the real enemy when a much more pressing enemy is at hand.  Towards the end of the book, Katniss is watching another player stalk her through the trees.  She has her bow and arrow cocked and aimed at him when she suddenly remembers her mentor’s words.  Even though this person moves towards her with every intent to kill her, he is not the real enemy.  Fighting him, in fact, just plays into the real enemy’s game.  She pivots her arrow away and fires it instead at a weakness in the arena wall.

Katniss Everdeen The Hunger Games

We may never find ourselves physically staring down an arrow at another person, but how often do we point our mental arrows at those around us?  How often is he to blame or is she at fault?  We are not so unlike the players in the hunger games.  We are thrown, every one of us, into this arena known as life.  From the minor inconveniences to the major calamities – shootings, genocide, war, famine – the immediate enemy may be in the arena with us, but the real Enemy is much more insidious.  Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world (1 Peter 5:8).

The devil loves nothing more than to pitch us against each other.  But we must be sober-minded.  We must remember who the real Enemy is.  We are, in fact, all in this together.  And just like the weakness discovered in the arena wall of the hunger games, there is a weakness in our Enemy.  The barrier that separates us from God is a bit like that televised arena.  We look around and see only ourselves, but on the other side of the barrier, God is watching us.  We cannot reach through the barrier to Him, but He can – and did – come to us.  After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you (1 Peter 5:10).

Like the helicopter that rushed through the weakened arena wall to scoop Katniss from the ground, so our Savior rushes through the weakness in life’s barrier to scoop us into His arms.  Jesus Christ destroyed, once and for all, the power of the devil.  Satan may still prowl around like a roaring lion, but we can resist him, firm in our faith, when we remember that God himself will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us.  We can resist him when we turn from our internal fighting… when we remember who the real enemy is.

Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.  But I will warn you who to fear: fear Him who after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell.  Yes, I tell you, fear Him! (Luke 12:4-5)