Last month I graduated from college, next month my wife and I will be traveling around the world, but right now is a very confusing time for me. A time in the wilderness.
I’ve been so focused on finishing my degree that other things have been put on the back burner. With my goal finally realized I feel like I’ve been given a key, but I don’t know what door it opens. This is not the only confusion I have though, when I am honest with myself I realize that I am perplexed by many aspects of my life. As I look upon my religious beliefs, I recognize that I have compromised their meaning to the point of meaninglessness. I look upon my education and wonder if I should have studied a different subject. I examine my life in general and find myself sadly lacking in accomplishment. I even question in which direction I would want to accomplish.
I am disillusioned with our materialistic society, our capitalistic government, and the fact that the church does not truly separate itself from the secular world in it's ideals. I am disillusioned with myself and the fact that my mind can fathom a lifestyle that my body will not conform to. Everyone knows the importance of healthy food and an physical activity, yet I am sedentary and eat junk food. I would like to set the world afire with my accomplishments, yet I don’t even have a clear goal. I would like to be a mystic, a spiritual leader that propels the world into a utopian future and directs souls toward everlasting life, yet I find myself doubting the very existence of the "soul" as it is typically understood. It seems that I am disillusioned with everything.
I am reminded of walking on some land close to my house called the Red Arroyo. An area basically composed of red clay, a ditch that if your lucky has a little stagnant, fetid water in it, and an assortment of desert flora that provide no noticeable benefit. The only plants out there are those that manage to suck water from great depths, release almost none of it into the environment, and are invariably covered with some type of thorny exterior. The king of this foliage, the mesquite, is one of the few "trees" (it would probably be considered a large bush by biologists) that will thrive naturally in West Texas, and it is quite possibly the most rugged plant alive. In other words this is a wild, untamed place, a wilderness.
The funny thing about the Red Arroyo is that if you really look around while your walking through it there is some beauty to be found. It does not contain the manicured look of the well-cared-for lawns of our town, this is nature, the way it truly is. I’m not saying that it’s pristine and untouched by man, but it makes me feel somehow closer to the truth, distanced from the "bubble" man builds around himself as a shield from the harshness of reality.
There is another interesting observation I can make about this little wilderness area. If you follow the ditch far enough, through all the stickers and thorns, evading the mesquite branches that seem to try to grab you as you pass, and somehow manage to keep out of the foul, marshy mud that appears from nowhere and leaves a stench on any article of clothing that it comes in contact with, if you press on past all these obstacles there is an area to be found, quite surprisingly, around a certain bend. Suddenly you are staring at a big beautiful pond surrounded by green grass, large pine trees, foot bridges and exquisite houses. It is in fact probably the most beautiful neighborhood in our town, and there is no better view of it than from the side bordering the Red Arroyo.
I remember that Jesus too went into the wilderness. He separated himself from the illusions of this world, was tempted to seek materialism and hedonistic pursuits, yet instead found the oasis that he would spend the rest of his life leading the world towards. He came out with the knowledge that he would, in fact, give up his own life to share with others.
As I look around during my time in the wilderness I realize that I am confused, disillusioned, and perhaps bordering on lost. I don’t know what to believe, and I question even those things I used to accept as fact. But still the separation from the dogma of society, government, and organized religion lends itself to seeing pure unadulterated truth. Much like the difference between the well managed lawns of a city and the rugged plants of nature.
So what truths am I left with? I know beyond a shadow of doubt I want to spend my time on earth wrapped in the warm blanket of love. Of course with my wife, but also extending to all those I am in contact with. I know that the world would be a much better place if people would work unselfishly and to the betterment of all, rather than hoarding, and competing for resources. I truly believe there would be enough for everyone. I honestly cannot say if there is an afterlife, but I can say there is a life after this moment, and this moment leads to the next in a series of consequences, so the more "righteous" we are today, the better the future will be. Unfortunately, I also know from experience that I will fall far short of ideal, and so will everyone else. Therefore, I must forgive others for there shortcomings, and hope in turn for forgiveness of my own. This includes society, government, and the church. After all, the system we find ourselves a part of has been established since long before we were members of it, some might say we were "born into original sin." Finally I see that great things can be achieved by those willing to sacrifice. Unfortunately, I still don’t know if I am one of the few who are willing to do it.
As I examine the things I hold to be true I also recognize that there are gapping holes in my knowledge. Such as the true nature of God, or in fact the certainty of the existence of God as most would define him/it (although that opens a whole can of worms in itself, "defining" God is like putting the infinite into a box to examine at ones leisure). Also, again how can I in truth express confidence in an afterlife when I have not personally experienced it? So where does this leave me? Well, in fact, still in a wilderness.
As I choose the next direction for my life I do have some guideposts to follow. I have looked at the world from the viewpoint of the wilderness and found truths that transcend the bias of the current state of the world. Once again I have discovered that there is someone pointing in the direction I know to be right. Someone who has already made it through the wilderness. And though there are things I don’t and can’t know, at least not yet, I will follow him.
I must, though it pains me, make a distinction. I am speaking of following the man that lived 2000 years ago and taught of loving your enemies, healing the sick, turning the other cheek, giving money to the poor, and teaching others to do the same; not the modern American conservative movement that espouses cutting taxes for the rich, spending more on national "defense" than on education, enforcing their moral code through the legal system, and seeking "justice" on those who oppose them. Unfortunately they also claim his name. Did I mention I’m a bit disillusioned?
It's encouraging to find others who ask difficult questions. Questioning our beliefs, values, and character apparently continue for the course of a lifetime. Or, at least for some it does.
Perhaps it is a bit paranoid but unquestioning acceptance of anything often results in people being led astray in the worst ways.
The profession of un-questioning faith and activism rooted in that faith have led many to commit acts that, in retrospect, appear to us all now as reprehensible.
Faith assumes that a divine being is in control of this reality we live in. Our struggles to come to grips with an ultimate lack of control (excepting over our own attitudes) aren't for the faint-hearted. It certainly doesn't exclude us from imploring for divine intervention. Hence, we pray.
Being in the wilderness may be a time for us to reflect and to question, and perhaps, to wait for answers to those prayers.
Then again, who knows?
Love is our guide in this wilderness.
Love for our creator, love for our fellow humans, love for our earth and all the beauty of the universe. Not a passive love, but an active love that reaches out to help and nurture those in need, including ourselves.
Victor Frankl, author of "Man's Search for Meaning" postulates that we each choose our personal meaning for life.....
Living to love unconditionally is, in my opinion, one way to find a path in the wilderness.
You have finished this stage of your life, and the next one looms ahead. As you and Joy prepare for your adventure in this wide, wide, world I believe you will travel, not as thoughtless tourists, but as pilgrims...finding spiritual wisdom in the places you visit and people you meet because you travel with open minds and loving hearts. I pray for blessings and safety for you, as well as peace and love on your life's journey. Disillusionment is easy for all of us in this day and age....too many distractions and complications pull us from the truth. We are born, we live, and we die. But we live with love, happiness, joy, sorrow, excitement, and all the other rich emotions of life, yes, even with disillusionment and cynicism at times.
I love you both so much.
I know how you feel- the wilderness thing.
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