Chapter 7

Spiritual Insights From the Wilderness

Throughout the centuries since the biblical canon was established, poets and sages have followed the example of Old Testament poets who gained a great deal of spiritual insight from attending to the natural features of the wilderness. Some insights were practical, some profound. Consider these:

William Cullen Bryant, on watching a solitary waterfowl wing its way through autumn skies, reaffirmed the validity of his faith in God’s leading: “He who, from zone to zone, guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight, in the long way that I must tread alone, will lead my steps aright.” 13

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, pondering depressions on a sandy beach, drew this analogy: “Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime; and, departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of time.” 14

Robert Frost, comparing his life’s journey to a walk in the autumn forest, tells us that “two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” 15

Joaquin Miller, examining a tree, exulted, “Ten thousand leaves on every tree, and each a miracle to me; and yet there be men who question God!” 16

Nineteenth-century English novelist, poet, and preacher George MacDonald tells us why the natural world teaches us about our Creator:

If it were not for the outside world, we should have no inside world to understand things by. Least of all could we understand God without these millions of sights and sounds and scents and motions weaving their endless harmonies. They come out of His heart to let us know a little of what is in it.17

In perhaps the most spiritually profound of MacDonald’s novels, The Curate’s Awakening, the author goes deeper into the communion that can occur when our souls are touched by the Holy Spirit who still broods over the surface of the creation (Gen. 1:2).

All about us in earth and air, wherever eye or ear can reach, there is a power ever breathing itself forth in signs. Now it shows itself in a daisy, now in a waft of wind, a cloud, a sunset—and this power holds constant relation with the dark and silent world within us. The same God who is in us and upon whose tree we are buds, also is all about us. Inside, the Spirit; outside the Word. And the two are ever trying to meet in us; and when they meet, then the sign without and the longing within become one. The man no more walks in darkness, but in light, knowing where he is going.18

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