I have always wondered why Jesus chose the wilderness for his little getaways, but I think I can answer that question with my latest fascination, which is the fact that no one followed him there. Jesus’ disciples and fans followed him across cities and towns and even on water, but it is like He announced that He would be going to the wilderness, and everyone sort of slunk away with a sort of “Have fun with that!” shrug and nod.
With this in mind, I am actively seeking the wilderness. Not the literal wilderness, mind you, but just a place where people will not follow me.
I realize that this little practice may look like I am running away from my problems. Not really. My life as of late seems so plagued with so many problems that I have started to learn from them. I do not mean this in a “Count it all joy, my brothers,” sense, but rather that waiting patiently, then pouncing and crushing, and sinking your fangs and claws into something until you’ve exhausted it into submission might actually be an effective way to get what you want. I would try that except I am the “something” in this metaphor, and I am no match for the problems that hide in the shadows. Retreating to my cave and hiding seem like the most logical solution.
I think of Jesus telling the religious leaders that if the disciples' voices were to be stifled the rocks would start talking. “That would suck,” I think, "If rocks could talk, then every time Jesus went to the desert, He’d have to listen to them too." (There are very clear reasons for why people trust Jesus with their souls and not me.)
It takes a federal regulation to disconnect me from all methods of wireless and electronic communication and these retreats do not start until a flight attendant announces that I am required by law to turn my cell phone off. Then she repeats the law in a language that I don’t understand. The plane lifts, and I am disconnected. I am in my cave. I am free.
I can say three phrases in about five different languages: Is this gluten free? Thank you. Where is the library? I know my lack of cultural initiative makes it seem like I am the typical American tourist who expects everyone to cater to her linguistic needs. It isn’t that at all. I neither expect nor want in-depth conversations with the locals. I am craving conversations made of awkward laughs, smiles, and single words. I need relationships where neither one of us expects anything from the other and wouldn’t know how to ask for it if we did.
Over the summer, I went to Copenhagen armed with my journal, my iPod, and questions about gluten and libraries. I have this practice of leaving a building and asking myself, “If I lived here and needed coffee, which way would I go?” That navigational method has only worked once. Most of the time, I end up finding things I didn’t plan to see.
This time, I ended up in the center of a labyrinth. I liked the way the view of the water poked through the spaces in the bushes, so I sat down and took off my headphones. There was no need to try and cancel out the noise because, for the first time in a while, there wasn’t any. It was just me, quiet and alone, but hardly lonely.
In her book, A Year In the World, Frances Mayes talks about traveling with a transforming angel. “You go out, far out, and when you return, you have the power to transform your life.” I don’t know if I encountered the transforming angel in the center of my Danish wilderness, but the rising moon brought with it a comforting blend of grace and peace. When I was ready, I stood up and followed the winding path back towards home.