December 16, 2017

Thoughts on Faith and Doubt (while camping)

stoplogThis week I started planning my yearly camping trip. Every year, at the end of August, I gather together family and friends and we depart on a wilderness canoe trip. I have been trekking into this one particular lake since I was three years old. Here are some memories from a previous year’s adventure:

The trip in takes about 10 hours. Half of that time is spent in the car, and half on the water. Four lakes and three portages later, we arrive at our destination campsite just before nightfall. The night is cool as autumn is just around the corner, and we fall asleep quickly as we are all exhausted from the exertion expended during the day. The next morning I am usually up early to make breakfast while the boys head out to try some fishing. I enjoy the early morning solitude, the crisp air, and the views as the mist rises from the lake. (The picture was taken from our campsite.) It is at times like this that I feel closest to God, experiencing his creation all around me, seeing the great blue heron glide in for a landing, hearing the early morning loon call, or the splash of a fish as it jumps for its dinner. The trees are just starting to adopt their colorful fall mantle, and I can’t help but marvel at the glory of creation. God is good.

fishThe boys come back from their fishing expedition ready to enjoy a hot breakfast. My son’s friend is an avid fisherman and he usually comes back with the biggest catch or the most fish. The camp becomes alive as friends tumble out of tents and there is much fun and laughter as they admire the morning catch. I will join them a little later to prove that even the old guy can catch a few. I sit back and take in the hustle and bustle around me. I am so glad that I am in this place and enjoying these friends. God is good.

The day stretches on. As the afternoon sun heats up, we head down the lake to do some cliff jumping. These lakes were formed by glacier action during the last ice age, and so there are a number of places where jumps of twenty feet or more can be made into clear deep water. Their favorite game involves a “quarterback” throwing a football at the exact moment that someone launches themselves off the cliff. With any luck, the path of the football and the path of the jumper intersect during flight. I watch (and sometimes throw, and sometimes jump) and take joy in the fun they are having. God is good.

serpentinelakeWe head back to camp for supper. The fish, sauteed in a bit of garlic butter, couldn’t be any fresher! We eat our fill, and then pause to enjoy the sunset. A purple tinged cloud stretches across the sky. A tiny beat up guitar that we carried in with us is brought out and we have some enthusiatic singing around the campfire. We have the entire lake to ourselves, so there are no neighbors to disturb. As the darkness deepens we play games around the table by lantern light. Camping in late August is great because there are no bugs to worry about. We do have to worry about bears. There are a few in the area. So our food pack is strung up high in a tree, far out of the reach of any critter that might come calling.

And then, in the words of Bruce Cockburn, “the night lights twinkle out like gems”. We lie on our backs as the milky way stretches our above us. We call out the constellations as we recognize them. Out in the wilderness there are no town lights to obscure the view, and the stars are as intense as I have ever seen them. In the words of the Psalmist: “The heavens declare the glory of God.” God’s creation is amazing!

And it causes me doubt.

What the Psalmist did not know is how miniscule this third planet of this solar system is when compared to the vastness of the universe. And I am one miniscule human among six billion others on this miniscule planet. Of all the things that could cause me to doubt that God has a redemptive plan for the planet and for me, this is it. The thoughts linger with me for a while.

waterfallWe head back to our tents for sleep. The following day is spent exploring the area. We hike up to lake hidden between some steep hills. Next time we will bring our fishing rods as it probably never gets fished. Two mornings later we break camp and head back for civilization. There is a waterfall on our way home that we stop at to freshen up. The kids enjoy jumping into the rapids and having the current carry them down stream. I watch the kids play, thoroughly enjoying themselves as the water surges around them. I am surrounded by friends. I say to myself, “I am blessed. God is good.”

Comments

  1. Faulty O-Ring says:

    And then a bear ate one of my kids, so there is no God–only chaos.

    • Sounds like you would enjoy the classic Werner Herzog documentary “Grizzly Man.” A movie about a man who believed that nature was sweet, kind, and loving, narrated by a man who believes that nature is unthinking and unmeaning chaos. Good times!

      • Rick Ro. says:

        …and the man and his girlfriend are killed by a bear known to be unstable, which probably further solidified the narrator’s feelings about nature.

        Interesting movie, though!

      • Faulty O-Ring says:

        Haven’t seen it, but I know the (true) story. In this case, the problem was not so much that nature is chaotic–in fact the outcome was quite predictable–but that some people are idiots.

    • I might have given that impression. Many of our readers will realize that our family has gone through some difficult times with on going serious health issues along with the loss of our life savings. Still, inspite of that I choose to praise God for the good things that he does bring our way.

      “You give and take away, my heart will choose to say, blessed be your name.”

  2. JoanieD says:

    Great post, Mike! Nice-looking fish, too. The waterfall looks refreshing.

    When I look up at the stars, I know that I know nothing and it makes me feel small. It’s only the words of Jesus that keep me believing that all we are and all we do matters. And there are days that sometimes I still question that. Then I decide that life as we know it is short, so we better live, love, laugh and enjoy the creation because otherwise it is like refusing a gift. But I am a very serious, worry-prone person so it’s not easy for me to follow my own ideas.

  3. Mike, you didn’t say how you caught the fish, but after reading your various posts and essays over the years, my impression is that you would really like fly fishing.

    • Maybe. I remember reading about it as a boy in one of the Hardy Boy books. Not something that overly has caught my fancy. I am not an avid fisherman, but enjoy doing it once a year with friends. By the way, we caught over 200 bass the size of the ones in the picture. In two days. Almost all were let go.

  4. You couldn’t walk by faith, Mike, if there wasn’t a bit of doubt.

    Looks like a marvelous vacation!

  5. Mike, I have had a similar experience while on one of my backpack trips in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. Intensely blue sky, crisp, even cold, morning air, greenery that the most intensely landscaped yard cannot rival, and the quiet. Oh, the quiet!

    And it is in those times that I realize…I do not belong here, I am only a visitor. In reality, as beautiful and primal as nature untouched is, it is also unforgiving and harsh. Not like civilized life is, but even more so because there is no room for sentimentality, no saving grace, no redeeming act. There is only eat or be eaten, survive or die, the perfect Hobbsian landscape. It is in those times that I doubt, and that forces me to turn my face toward heaven and plead for mercy and grace.

    Being in the middle of primal nature is wonderful, but that is no where Jesus came. He was/is not the proverbial hermit guru who people labor to find, He came among men and mankind to save them, THAT is where I belong!

  6. ” . . . the stars are as intense as I have ever seen them.”

    Three days in a row recognizing our “Father of lights”. What are the odds?

    • I must confess that my thoughts are often prompted by what goes before me at Internet Monk. I just wish that I was half the wordsmith of the previous writers.

      • Christiane says:

        your words here evoke a whole world for readers . . . the brightness of the stars, the taste of the fish cooked in garlic butter, the joy of the waterfall for the children . . . the awareness of Him Who created all . . . . priceless!

        thank you, Mike

      • Rick Ro. says:

        Your writing is good, Mike. Lots of fine writers here, and you’re one of them!

  7. Wow, that looks beautiful. Good looking catch, too!

  8. Dana Ames says:

    Your photos show something of the beauty of the place, Mike, and so do your words. Amid the cares, your heart is pointed toward the Beautiful and the Good.

    St John Chrysostom’s last words were, “Glory to God for all things!” You may be interested in this beautiful prayer:

    http://glory2godforallthings.com/2007/08/08/akathist-hymn-glory-to-god-for-all-things/

    An Akathist is a long prayer/poem that is meant to be prayed while standing; akathist means “not sitting.” It has a specific structure of verses; classically in Greek it was in the form of an acrostic, with each verse starting with the next consecutive letter of the Greek alphabet. Nowadays they’re not usually acrostics, but the people who compose them retain the classical verse form. The earliest and most well known was composed in Constantinople in the 500s, about Mary the mother of God, but there are many, focusing on different aspects of who Christ is and what he has done. The one linked is appropriate for any time, and would be especially wonderful to pray on a camping trip to such a beautiful place.

    Dana

  9. It is at times like this that I feel closest to God

    It has been a very long time since I *felt* close to God. I’m not really sure what kind of value to place on this. Perhaps I need to go camping in the wilderness, though I’ve never been much of an outdoorsman. Perhaps its just the occupational burnout that’s been kicking my butt for the last three years. Perhaps it is the residual bitterness in my soul that casts a gloomy shadow over nearly any positive emotion I experience.

    I don’t know if I’d call what you are experiencing “doubt.” If your sentiments echo the psalmist’s question “What is man that you are mindful of him,” I’d say that that is just an expression of faith in the bigness, wonder, and majesty of God, and our insignificance by comparison. Catching a glimpse of God’s character, revealed in creation, can have that affect for us, but it’s not like its causing you to question the resurrection or your place in God’s family, is it?

    Maybe this is just the upside to doubt. We often associate doubt negatively as the weakness of faith from exhaustion under trails, but perhaps a lingering uncertainty manifests itself, positively, on the mountaintop as well, in the way you describe.

    Perhaps what we experience as a feeling of closeness to God isn’t necessarily the most faith causing thing, but rather, it is an effect of faith, albeit not necessarily a universal one. Some people report this experience during times of grief. I don’t know whether the lack of this experience is cause for concern, or if it should be actively pursued. The closest I get is after three beers or at the sushi bar.

    Thankfully, I’m headed for a two week vacation in Japan (at the in-law’s) next week. Hopefully I’ll be able to use the time to de-stress, touch some roots, and get some emotional balance restored. Perhaps, after a feast of fish and a soak in the onsen, I’ll have that sense of “God is good”-ness you describe from your trip.

    Perhaps the fish is the necessary, missing ingredient. After all, what would Jesus eat? 😛

    • Robert F says:

      Miguel, I hope you have a safe and enjoyable trip, and I pray that the bitterness of your soul will lift, perhaps with a little help from some good Japanese saki.

      • Thanks Robert. I do my best to keep up with my father-in-law’s sake consumption, and though I never can, I’m certainly no worse for the effort! If you ever get a chance, try shochu (not to be confused with Korean Soju).

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Just remember:
          Cute little Japanese schoolgirls make the best Kancho Assassins.

          And I once had to help sober up somone from a Soju-spiked punch at a party.
          Soju = Korean Moonshine — very nasty stuff.

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

      Do you mind if I ask where in Japan? I have some dear friends in Kyoto.

      • We’ll be staying in Yokohama, but for the first time since we were dating, I believe her parents are planning to take us down to Kyoto.

    • Thanks for these thoughts Miguel.

    • Danielle says:

      “It has been a very long time since I *felt* close to God. I’m not really sure what kind of value to place on this.”

      I am not even sure how I’d define “feeling close to God.” This meant something back in my evangelical days; today I am less sure how I’d employ the phrase.

      It occurs to me that I rarely if ever use it – probably because I associate it with discussions of very strong emotion or a high degree of confidence. Being rational/skeptical/calm by disposition, I tend not to trust upswells of emotion. And while I may inwardly feel and value strong emotions boiling just beneath a calm exterior, I dislike making claims about what they mean. Besides, if I did, where would that leave me? Plenty of my stronger and less governable feelings are not ones I prefer to have.

      As I am fond of saying, one of the things that relieves me so much about liturgy and sacrament is that all the important “stuff” occurs outside myself – and I can let my emotions, or even belief, follow it. I don’t really have to trust myself too much. It’s not really about me, after all. On a good day, that keeps me humble. On a bad day, it permits me to survive.

      But hey, this is besides the point. Japan! How great is that! Have a great trip, and a good break.

      (If you do try the outdoors, I can recommend Montana or Utah. The east coast has nothing like it.)

  10. Rick Ro. says:

    -> “It has been a very long time since I *felt* close to God.”

    I could respond with this trite piece of Christian crap which I’m sure some of us have heard before: “If you’re not feeling close to God, guess who moved?”

    But I won’t. Instead I’ll say, “Peace to you, Miguel.”

  11. “But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Mt. 10:30)

    “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)