10 Thoughts on the Spiritual Practice of Getting Lost: Wilderness
Adapted by Kate Huey
from Chapter Five of Barbara Brown Taylor's book, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.
Barbara Brown Taylor gives new meaning to the words, "Get lost!"
Do you stick to the same routes every day, both literally and metaphorically, doing the same things in the same way?
Are we like cows, Taylor wonders, who stay on their pasture's well-worn, safe paths "through wide swaths of unpredictable territory"?
When you stray off familiar paths, you become acutely aware of every step you take, and pay close attention to your surroundings.
Taylor says, "once you leave the cow path, the unpredictable territory is full of life . . . you can no longer count on the beat-down red dirt path making all your choices for you."
"Some of God's best work is done with people who are truly, seriously lost."
Getting lost is in the Bible: Abraham and Sarah, Elijah, and Jesus all set out into the wilderness to be lost for awhile, to practice trusting in the promises of God.
It took a lot of wilderness time for the Hebrew people to learn "the holy art of being lost."
They knew what it was like to leave the "cow-paths” of security (and bondage) in Egypt that “led straight from their slave huts to the mud pits where they made bricks.”
"By the time our ancestors in faith reached "the land of milk and honey", they knew how to say thank-you and mean it."
We can learn many things out there in the wilderness: trust, resourcefulness, and gratitude.
When we leave the familiar paths, we may be surprised by the things we learn from strangers.
"The most likely to befriend strangers," Taylor reminds us, "are those who have been strangers themselves. The best way to grow empathy for those who are lost is to know what it means to be lost yourself."
Then there's the "advanced level of lostness," something we don't choose, but happens to us: failure, loss, grief, abandonment.
Getting lost in little ways hones the same skills needed in the advanced kind: "managing your panic, marshalling your resources, taking a good look around to see where you are and what this unexpected development might have to offer you."
Out there in the wilderness, "you explore the possibility that life is for you and not against you."
You learn "rock-bottom trust." The spiritual practice of getting lost means keeping your eyes open for "opportunities to get slightly lost, so that [you] can gradually build the muscles necessary for radical trust."
Our ever-present GPS devices "may soon make getting lost impossible to do," at least literally. What about being metaphorically "lost"?
"Getting lost" is counter-cultural, because we're expected to "get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, even if that means you miss most of the territory."
In the wilderness, on your own but never alone, "you could do worse than to kneel down and ask a blessing, remembering how many knees have kissed this altar before you."
Taylor blesses the wilderness, "where there are as many angels as there are wild beasts, and plenty of other lost people too."