“The Desert Fathers believed that the wilderness had been created as supremely valuable in the eyes of God precisely because it had no value to men… The desert was created simply to be itself, not to be transformed by men into something else. So too the mountain and the sea. The desert is therefore the logical dwelling place the the man who seeks to be nothing but himself – that is to say, a creature solitary and poor and dependent upon no one but God, with no great project standing between himself and his Creator.”
– Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
Few fall leaves still clung to the trees when my wife said, “Let’s camp the Everglades for Christmas.” Two months later the kids woke up Christmas morning to a living room crowded with a new tent and a pile of gear. A few days after that, hauling two canoes, three kids and a lot of anticipation, we reached the swamp.
Backcountry campsites in the Everglades are on raised wooden platforms called Chickee Huts. They’re only accessible by canoe. And they can only be reserved in person. So we arrived at the ranger station at midday not expecting to get a site. To our surprise they were wide open. We hurried to the aptly named Hell’s Bay Canoe Trail and slipped into the narrow path between the Mangroves. After hours of paddling and several panic-stricken moments unable to find the next trail marker, just as the sun was sinking into the black water we found our Hut.
The Everglades are harsh. Silent. Beautiful. It’s a place that is not created for people. There’s nothing you could give to it or take from it, leaving you to be only who God created you to be. With no great project standing between us and our creator the Everglades left us alone with our thoughts, open to being transformed by God’s handiwork.
On our way home we spent a night in Orlando. A stark contrast from the still transparency of the Everglades, Orlando is a city created entirely for human consumption, pulling a facade over our senses and genuine selves. It is a barrage of bells and whistles reducing people to their economic value, conforming them into monetized reflections of the world.
After writing a veritable thesis on faith, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans (also a city of opulence): “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” #Rom12:2
We need places like the Everglades, sanctuaries untamed by human exploit, sabbath landscapes unpolluted by progress, if we are ever to hear the still small voice of God.
Merton continues: “The desert was the region in which the Chosen People had wandered for forty years, cared for by God alone. They could have reached the Promised Land in a few months if they had travelled directly to it. God’s plan was that they should learn to love Him in the wilderness and that they should always look back upon the time in the desert as the idyllic time of their life with Him alone.”
Now you go find your Everglades.
– Clay Farrington, Armchair Theologian