Since the dawn of time, men have climbed mountains in search of gaining a closer connection with the holy.
Moses did it, and came back with a shiny face and some rather heavy blackboards. Jesus did it, and got a new pair of clothes and a conference with the aforementioned Moses and another holy mountain-climber, Elijah.
This weekend, I did it, and came back with a dirty face, wet clothes, and a tent that’s now drying in my garage.
Ok, admittedly, I went up to North Georgia seeking some time away to catch up on some reading, say my prayers, and be open to what God may have for me. In these respects, the trip was successful. I learned from my dear friend and mentor Sam, who would go off on these jaunts from time to time and come back a new man, that as priests, we are to allow ourselves some time to go and be quiet. I’ve never actually done this for a 2-day stretch before, instead relying on my weekly hikes to have some “quiet time.” So I had some Continuing Education days left, a free weekend, and a bunch of great camping gear, so why not?
So I trekked up to Tate Branch Campground (at Sam’s suggestion) on Thursday morning with a car packed with all my gear. It was a lovely trip up, although the fact you have to go through downtown Atlanta to get to the quiet is a bit ironic. Way back in the Chattahoochee National Forest, about 8 miles northwest of Clayton, is Tate Branch. It sits way back off the main drags on the Tallulah River. In fact, my campsite was literally on the river, which was the most perfect thing about this campsite. I was an audience of one to a chorus of river noises to water rushing over rocks to fish jumping out of the water. It was breath-taking.
I set up camp and immediately got to work. I needed to read over things like a policy manual for Habitat for Humanity, on which I am a board member, and a booklet about the building process in the Episcopal Church. But mostly, my goal was to read at least one academic book, which I did. I completed Marcus Borg’s Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time, which was a fantastic book. If you haven’t read anything by Borg, you should. He presents things that I’ve thought about many times, but he also gives solid scholarship to back up those thoughts. I also began reading Parker Palmer’s Promise of Paradox (that’s a lot of p’s!), which I’ve been meaning to read for quite a while.
In addition to reading, which actually was the bulk of my time there, I took one hike up the road on which Tate Branch resides, into Tate City, population 32±. I planned to do more hiking, but the rain interrupted most of my plans.
Now, I knew it was going to rain. Yet, I went anyway. Here’s the thing about camping in the rain: reading books while cozied up in your tent while listening to the raindrops “plink” on the rain fly? Awesome! Cooking hotdogs in the rain? Not so awesome. The worst part was packing up a soaked tent into my car, then setting it back up in my garage to dry. I did get one good section of reading done without rain in my trusty hammock, which was strung up by the river.
I learned a great deal about myself on this trip. Most of all, I love camping. I really do. It’s such a great pastime and very cheap hobby. However, camping alone is tough for me. I have thought that as years have gone by I have become a little less extroverted due to time spent with my wife and Sam, who both appreciate the quiet to an almost mind-numbing degree. So I thought 2 days in complete solitude would be good for me. And it was…but make no mistake, I am a diehard extrovert and proud of it!
While I benefited from the silence, I found it deafening, isolating, and foreign. I read Marcus Borg, who spoke about the Israelites in Babylonian exile, and for the first time, I really identified! In this, I found my need for Jesus to free me from that sense of isolation and bring me back into the fold of community. This morning, instead of saying my prayers using the Daily Office as I had been doing, I took out my guitar and sang back to the river, just to break the silence! I ended my trip a little early, mainly because I missed my family and I was blessedly happy to see them and just be around them again when I returned.
So while I didn’t come back with new commandments or a radiant face, like those who have climbed the mountains before me, I did return with some truths. I’m a little more cautious about watching the weather reports, a little more experienced as a camper, and a little more appreciative of the way God has made me.
And as luck (or better yet, God) would have it, the sun finally shone as I was packing up my tent. 🙂