One of the most interesting courses that I took in seminary while in Boston was entitled, “Wilderness Experience for Christian Maturity.” We spent an entire semester learning compass orienteering, team building, and rock climbing skills. This was done to prepare us for two weeks of hiking in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. We hiked through snowdrifts as best we could and trudged through mud after that. We carried all of our food, rappelled down Mt. Jo, and did three-day solos isolated from each other.
We learned a lot about Christian community, but we also discovered much about ourselves. I know first-hand about the fear of trusting a climbing harness when going over the edge of a cliff. I also found out the number of days that I could go without food, and I got closer to God as I read the Scriptures and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together.
An amazing discovery occurred when we returned to the trailhead. It was my first chance to see myself in a mirror. I almost didn’t recognize myself. With a full beard and noticeable weight loss especially in my voluminous face, I had to take a second look. Who was this lumberjack-looking creature? How had my wilderness experience changed me? Had I grown in Christian maturity?
The entire course was about discovering God by understanding oneself. Identity was at the core of everything we did. It took an opportunity like this course to make me take the time to ponder my identity as a person and as a Christian. When you know who you are, you don’t have to impress anyone. When Jesus was taken before the high priest, who asked, “What do you have to say for yourself?” Jesus was silent. Wrong question. When the high priest then asked Him if He was the Son of God, Jesus said, “I am.” Right question. Before Pilate, who asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “Yes, it is as you say.” Right question. In the Luke account, Herod asked Jesus question after question, but there was no reply. Wrong questions.
When you have discovered your identity, you need to say little else. This all begs the question for me to answer: Who am I in Christ? What is my identity? With all that has taken place this summer it is important for me to find the real “me” in Christ. You know where I do most of that kind of pondering, Mt. Mitchell. As naturalist John Muir put it, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.” Well, I won’t make it any time soon due to the district set-up meeting, and catching up of every kind around the office, but I can go in my spirit and through quiet time.
This all reminds me of the story I heard of a woman who got on an elevator in a tall office building. There was just one other person in the elevator, a handsome man. She pushed the button for her floor and then casually looked over at the man and suddenly had one of those moments of recognition shock. Could it be? The man looked exactly like Robert Redford, the movie star. Her gaze was almost involuntarily riveted on him. Finally, she blurted out, “Are you the real Robert Redford?” He smiled and said, “Only when I’m alone.”
Who are we when we’re alone?