How Wilderness Experiences Make Boring Doctrines Relevant Again?

St. Stephen's Cathedral | Vienna, Austria

St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria is a stunning sight. What instantly struck me as I walked into the sanctuary was a sense of awe. The architecture naturally elicits a feeling of reverence for the immensity of God’s holiness. St. Stephens, like all other cathedrals were built to draw people into God’s presence and create an atmosphere of worship.

Cathedrals Remain Empty for Lack of Spiritual Leaders

Unfortunately, many of the beautiful cathedrals in Europe remain empty and cold. People have slowly stopped entering into these sacred spaces for lack of spiritual leaders. Is there any way to fill these cathedrals again? Not without spiritual leaders.

I ask the same question about our wilderness areas around the world. They are cathedrals of sacred open space just waiting for people to enter in and experience awe. But largely, people stay indoors and do not wander out into the wilderness to encounter Christ and be drawn into deeper worship of God. I wonder, “Is there any way today to fill these wilderness cathedrals with more spiritually hungry God-seekers?” Not without spiritual leaders.

Creation Offers Clear and Understandable Illustrations to Explain the Most Difficult of Doctrines

Like a Tree Planted by Streams of Water

The wilderness was a cathedral for Israel’s worship before the tabernacle and Temple were eventually built. And Creation is still a place that evokes awe and worship for the Creator. It is full of Biblical symbols that illustrate God’s character. Creation spills forth a cornucopia of tangible object lessons that help us interpret even some of the most difficult doctrines of Christian faith. Consider Psalm 1:

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)

At least four difficult doctrines are addressed in this short passage: Humanity, Sanctification, The Word of God, and Sin. The Psalmist uses a simple scene from Creation (a tree planted by a stream) as a metaphor to interpret these deep truths:

  • Humanity | The whole Psalm is a statement about human existence and the battle between good and evil.
  • Sanctification | Psalm 1 foreshadows to the New Testament teaching on sanctification. It teaches that the choices we make matter. The way life turns out is somewhat dependent upon how we live our life, i.e. we work in cooperation with God.
  • Word of God | Using the tree by the stream of water analogy, we learn that as one delights in God’s Word and loves it, the Word begins to shape and mold our soul, drawing us nearer to God through mutual relationship with Him.
  • Sin and Judgement | In verse 6, we see the contrast between the way of the righteous person and the wicked person. The way of righteousness leads to fruitfulness and joy (v. 3), whereas the way of wickedness is a complete waste and leads to death (chaff).

Mountain Sky like Stained Glass-Thomas Haines

The wilderness is teeming with colorful stained-glass windows of sky colors that settle our souls into God’s presence and make boring doctrines relevant again. This is especially important to youthworkers as we try to develop disciples who have depth and resilience to lead the church in the future. We need more leaders in the church who understand this and will step up and lead others into wilderness experiences to help them grow in worship and awe of their Creator. I am encouraged to see more Christian colleges and universities and some seminaries with outdoor leadership programs begin to train their students in experiential learning and how to use time in the outdoors for spiritual growth. Maybe as leaders discover that the Creation is a tutor to help us understand even the most challenging doctrines of our faith, they will begin exploring it for illustrations.

My Cathedral

The first time I heard Chris Rice’s song, “My Cathedral” it took me way back to experiences I had as a kid, exploring the wonder of this wilderness cathedral out beyond the back yard of my house on Hawk Creek in Redstone, Colorado. I’ve highlighted some of the creation symbols mentioned in the song:

Sweetest days of childhood / Playing in the deep woods / Stomping through the creek and feeling oh-so-much alive.

We’re camping in the forest / We join the cricket chorus / Hum our songs of gratitude around a crackling fire.

Out here in the stillness / I found my house of worship / with column trees and canopy of stars / Here in my cathedral.

It was beneath the blue skies / I ran down to be baptized / I felt the river wash me clean / and dried beneath the sun.

To this day believing / I’m wide awake or dreaming / Scan the ancient sky / and understand where I belong.

Cause out here in the stillness / I find my house of worship / with column trees and canopy of stars / Here in my cathedral.

This is where I find my soul / Out where holy men of old / first knelt in soil / and thanked You for the rain.

Wrote the songs that filled the air / Harold angels sang their prayer / out beneath your darling constellations.

Let me off and wander / Robin song and thunder / Surrounding me with stained glass leaves that change with every breeze.

Out here in the stillness / I find my house of worship / with column trees and canopy of stars / Here in my cathedral.

Action Steps

  • How would you compare man-made cathedrals with the Cathedral of Creation? What can we learn from God’s Creation that could help us make our churches more worshipful?
  • Invite the worship leader(s) from your church to go on a wilderness trip for a few days and write new worship songs for your church from the inspiration that comes from being in the Cathedral of Creation.
  • Comment Below! Do you have anything to add?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

3 thoughts on “How Wilderness Experiences Make Boring Doctrines Relevant Again?

  1. Pingback: What a Starry Night & Blank Trail Sign Teaches About Asking,"Why God?"| Outdoor Leadership | Ashley Denton

Comments are closed.