Earlier this Fall, my wife and I visited a place we had never been before. Having grown in Amarillo, Texas, our adventures typically took us west to the Rocky Mountains. From an earlier age, for me, going to the mountains meant going to places like Red River, New Mexico (an underrated mountain town), or anywhere along the Front Range in Colorado. For my wife, it meant going to Cuchara, Colorado (another underrated mountain town). But when we began planning this trip, we decided to visit somewhere completely new to us. While there, I was reminded of one particular truth of human nature; within all of us is a desire to push into mystery, a desire to go to the woods. Upon reflecting on that truth, I also realized that desire runs deep into our souls. At the most fundamental level, our souls desire to engage with the mystery of transcendence. All that from a vacation? Weird, right?
We began talking about taking a trip in August when Angela had received a job offer. Somewhat out of the blue, she had received an offer that would take us back to our hometown of Amarillo, Texas. (Technically, it's her hometown. I grew up in Canyon, about 15 miles south). After much prayer and consideration, we decided that this would be an excellent opportunity for us. Within that deliberation, we also decided we wanted to take a week-long vacation between leaving her old job and starting her new one. Once she started her new job, we knew it would be much more challenging to take a week off from work. So the plan was set; quit our jobs in Oklahoma City, take a vacation, immediately pack up and move, and start over in our hometown. Sounds fun, right?
So with that, we set out to determine the destination for our trip. We said we wanted to go somewhere we had never been before. After some research on recommended Fall destinations, we settled on the Northeast. Maine, to be exact. Many lists of Fall destinations included Acadia National Park off the coast of Maine, and the pictures were more than convincing. We decided to stay in Portland, Maine, and travel up the coast one of the days to visit Acadia. Armed with credit card points and some leftover Biden Bucks (stimulus money), we booked the trip for the last week of October.
One element of New England that I understood conceptually but still amazed me once I experienced it was the abrupt transition from coastline to forest. Aside from man-made structures, in most places, the woods extend right up to the beach. And the trees that form these woods are old and massive. In my experience, those two are mutually exclusive. I haven't spent much time near the ocean, but on the few occasions that I have gone, there was not a dense forest within 50 yards of the beach. And obviously, when I go to the Rocky Mountains, the closest beach is about 1000 miles away. Now I know this is not a profound discovery, and the American Northeast is not the only place on earth to bear this type of geography, but encountering it for the first time was a meaningful experience.
As far as the trip itself, it was all very relaxing and fun. Portland, Maine, is an amazing city, and I will never forget how delicious my first "lawbsta roll" was. Acadia National Park was magical, and I highly recommend you put it on your list. The mystique of the beach/woods combo, as previously mentioned, is put on full display. I look forward to returning someday.
Now every time I looked out across the massive Atlantic Ocean to the east and the dense woods to the west, I couldn't help but think of those who inhabited that land in centuries past. From the European settlers who began arriving 400 years ago to the ingenious people who came many years before, human beings have made those woods and beaches their home for centuries. A certain kind of spirit is required to be among those who pushed into the woods to find refuge. It's the to the woods spirit. Imagine for a moment you find yourself on a beach with minimal provisions. The mighty Atlantic to your back and a wild, untamed forest before you. You have one choice; find out what's out there. You need fresh water, shelter, and food. On the beach, you can get food at best, but you can find all three in abundance in the woods. Your survival depends on you pushing into the mystery and risk of the unknown.
The spirit of "to the woods" is deep inside all of us. It's there. We may have covered it under layer after layer of convenience, comfort, and entertainment, but there is still a fundamental part of us that wants to peer into mystery and know that we must engage with it. Living a life in constant protection of the known may feel safe and comfortable, but you quickly become a slave to it.
So in every area of your life, let the spirit of "to the woods" come out. In your career, go to the woods and find that not-yet-obtained skillset. In your relationships, go to the woods and find the joy of mutual vulnerability and support. In your community, go to the woods and find the soul-nourishing practice of servanthood. Life in abundance happens when we get uncomfortable and push into the mystery of the unknown.
It is the conviction of this writer that far before you can experience the abundant life of the to the woods spirit, it must start in the most fundamental element of human life, the soul. Your soul needs to push into mystery to find its greatest need, and that is union with the transcendent, union with the divine. So that begs the question: how does the soul find union with the divine? Well, one approach would be to follow a particular path that claims access to the divine. Like a mountain to be climbed, you can reach the top if you take enough steps and traverse enough boulders. But how do you know if you've taken enough steps or if you're even on the right path at all? And what happens when one person says you are taking the steps the right way, but another says you are not. It's an inherently futile endeavor.
But what if there was another way? What if rather than you climbing up the mountain to the divine, the divine came down the mountain to you? What if the transcendent was also imminent? The one who came down the mountain would surely know the way back up. This is precisely who we have in the person of Jesus Christ. The divine has come down and dwelt among us. He descended that we might ascend with Him. When your soul is unified with Jesus, it is unified with the divine. He then shows you the way to the top of the mountain. Is this a mystery? Absolutely. How can God become a man? We cannot understand because we are not God. But when we let our souls push into that mystery, when we let our souls go to the woods, that's when we find our greatest need, union with the divine.
How then can your soul be unified with Jesus? The answer is the most simple yet profound truth you can ever hear. Your soul becomes unified with Jesus when you acknowledge that it was separated by your own doing, and you give up on your own ability to climb the mountain. The way to the divine is through humble submission to Jesus, not confident assertion of your own abilities. So I bid you, go to the woods and meet Jesus. He is calling you to life in abundance.