Seeing God takes practice.
Every year the youth group from Pensacola hikes a section of the Appalachian Trail. While student groups from the rest of the country drive south to the beach for the summer, We drove north.
We used an outfitter called Wilderness Trail in the Grayson Highlands, one of the prettiest sections of the trail. It was founded by a United Methodist pastor who, like me, finds God outside more often than inside.
After arrival, we’d be split into groups, sing, act out silly impromptu skits, make sure we had everything we needed in out packs, then the next morning, we’d hit the trail.
Hiking is hard work.
Blisters, tears and bad smells are the norm. Everyone has a sore back. Everyone has a sore everything.
I always slept in a hammock. And with the sleeping bag wrapped around it, I looked like a hotdog. One year we were hiking in bear country and my college staffer kept calling me a bear burrito.
One night we stayed at a campsite called Grindstaff, named for the hermit who used to live there who’s tombstone filled the fireplace side of the the chimney – all that was left of his old homestead.
There was only one tree in the campsite so I hung my other hammock strap on the chimney… on Grindstaff’s grave.
Everyone told me it was a bad idea.
That night his ghost visited me. But not like in the movies. It came in the form of mice that lived in the chimney.. At first I just heard them eating acorns in the chimney. But soon the brave one’s began exploring my hammock straps. Then one got really brave and joined me in my sleeping bag.
Needless to say, I got out in a hurry and made so much noise that our staffer though I was being eaten by bears.
That’s not the only time in my life I’ve had a mouse in my bed.
Every night on Trail, after dinner we’d go around the circle and share holy grounds and little foxes. Holy grounds are where you’ve seen God that day. Little foxes are your challenges. The metaphor comes from a story of foxes stealing a farmers grapes. So they’re the challenges that stole your joy.
The first night holy grounds and little foxes would be pretty shallow: breaking out your best snacks or stepping in creek and getting your foot wet. But by the last night, folks were talking about seeing God in that hour they got to hike alone or carry someone’s pack. Little foxes became things like not wanting to go home to deal with parent’s divorce or worry that this newfound joy and connection with God might fade.
Noticing God takes practice.
It’s why I love opening meetings with joys and sorrows. You may have hear them called palms and willows. One friend of mine calls them popsicles and poopsicles. Naming where you’ve seen God and where you wish you’d seen him teaches you to develop eyes that see, ears that hear, and minds that understand.
It’s why a gratitude journal is so important. Or practicing Sabbath. Or prayer. Or a 30 day blog challenge.
Seek and ye shall find, friends.