“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4, NRSV)
In the mid 90's I went with a group of strangers on an expedition into the East Pioneer Mountains in Montana, part of the Rocky Mountain Chain. It was ten days of wilderness camping, rock climbing, rappelling, and bouldering. There was also a 24-hour solo expedition—a vision quest opportunity to reflect on my life, what I had accomplished to that point, and what was most important for me to achieve in the second half of my life. The guides took my watch. No food was allowed. I had a tarp with some cord to make a lean-to, a sleeping bag (with a ground cloth and closed-cell foam pad), a water bottle, a small flashlight, and a journal with a pen with which to write my thoughts. I could venture out no further than 100 yards from my campsite per the covenant I agreed to with the guides. I guess they didn't want to have to wander all through the mountains looking for me if I got lost! I was entirely on my own, out in the middle of nowhere, with practically nothing but my thoughts—and maybe a grizzly bear or two.
I spent the first few hours setting up my campsite in a light mist that would persist the whole time I was there. I explored the area around my campsite, looking for signs of wildlife—mainly grizzly bear scat, and then I engaged in back-and-forth questioning with myself over whether I had chosen the best spot for my lean-to, especially if heavy rain came up. Finally, I sat down with my journal and faced the tyranny of an empty page. For one who writes a lot in his work, the worst part for me is always getting started. I stared at the blank page for what seemed like an eternity. Then I started my back-and-forth questioning about my campsite again to avoid getting started on my writing. I heard the faint sound of an airliner high up in the sky, so I scanned above me until I found the plane in its flight path. I began to think about the people on the flight and about their lives. I wondered what they might write about if they were in my place. Finally, I began to write.
I still have what I wrote that day. I have accomplished almost everything on those pages I thought was significant for me to do before I die. Some turned out to be not so important to me after I accomplished them, but that's life. I've done many other things that weren't on those pages that have turned out to be much more important to me. At the time, those things weren't even on my radar. There is one thing I wrote about that I have yet to do. The busy-ness of life, the distractions of family and work, the doubts about myself ingrained in me from both the conscious and unconscious feedback from others, and the fear that those doubts bring continue to serve as a barrier to that one thing. I'm not asking for encouragement to do it—for unless I find the will and the determination to do it on my own—it won't fully be my thing. But thanks for considering an offer of encouragement.
The real take-away from this solo expedition happened in the middle of the night. My sleep had been fitful. My choice for the placement of my sleeping bag ended up not being very good. Between the jagged rocks poking me and the sloping ground that required my repositioning to keep from rolling down a hill that wasn't as obvious in the day as it was when I was lying there in in the night, I didn't sleep much at all. And my mind kept turning. I finally fell asleep for a brief time. When I awoke, the clouds that had provided mist all day cleared away, and I witnessed one of the most spectacular night skies I have ever seen. I know without the aid of a telescope, the human eye can only see about 2,000 stars on the darkest of nights, but what seemed like the light of a million stars flooded my eyes. And I recalled the words of the Psalmist—"who am I, God, that you are mindful of me?" After about 15 minutes of this magnificent spectacle, the clouds rolled back in, the mist returned, and I sat stunned on holy ground, for God sent me a sign of his love.