Thursday, November 3, 2011

Back from the Badlands

I've been offline for a few days on a hunting trip to western North Dakota. Every couple years my brothers and I go hike around the badlands and sit on top of windy buttes with binoculars, searching out elusive mule deer, painstakingly stalking them through the coulees, watching in frustration when they see us coming and bound effortlessly over the hillsides. It's a grand life and one that I love when I can get it. This year we camped in a tent (as we usually do) in a tiny little pocket of trees at the head of a draw. We'd rise an hour or more before daylight, grab a few handfuls of cold breakfast, and head out into the darkness in order to be in a good watching spot by sunrise. Temperatures were in the 20's most nights, so things were pretty frosty until 9 or 10 in the morning.

Snow is coming soon -- you can feel it out there, you can see it in the cirrus clouds hanging like wisps of cotton candy ice sculptures at 60,000 feet up in the atmosphere, and the weatherman confirms that sense. The ranchers are scrambling to get their cows off the National Grassland ranges and under cover before the first snowstorm hits this weekend.

We saw lots of deer, even a few decent bucks, during our time out there. Didn't bring any venison home, unfortunately. My brother Darin got a shot, the only one of the hunt, but things don't always end up like you want them to.

I was amazed by the amount of training I had to do. I always forget how hard it is to see a bedded mulie, how tricky it can be to see them before they see you, how impossible it is to walk silently through the rough grasses of the semi-desert. I spent the first two days in frustration, peering into dark hollows in the hills, trying to pierce the shadows under juniper bushes and cedar trees on the north-facing slopes, trying to think like a mule deer and look for them high on the slopes where the wind comes over the top and they can see the valley in front of them. After three or four days, my mind and my eyes and my body begin to adjust to this hunting. I spotted far more deer the last two days of the hunt than the first two. My body began to enjoy the grueling hikes, eight or ten miles across the twisted, fractured landscape. I began to pay more attention to wind direction, and thus I had a much better sense of where those deer might be bedded.

Just a thought, not to put too fine a point on it: How often we fail to see the things of God because our eyes, our minds, our bodies are not trained! We don't listen, watch, or think in ways that help us perceive what God's Spirit is up to around us. He's moving and active, but we totally miss him, not because we don't want to see him but because we haven't trained ourselves to perceive, to live in the world in a way that we see his presence and his activity.
What if we took three days and focused, hour after hour, trying to understand where God is moving, what he's up to, how he's present around us? What if, metaphorically speaking, we spent three days looking for tracks, trying to see the landscape, the world, the people, the traffic, the neighbors, the churches, the schools, the students, the businesses, the bankers, the way God sees them? What if, again metaphorically speaking, we spent an hour or two each day sitting still with binoculars watching the world and trying to catch a glimpse of God? What if we bent every muscle, every movement, to try to stalk him?

I wonder what would happen to us? I wonder how we would change?

Very little changed for the mule deer while I was out in the badlands. But a few things changed for me. The doors of perception in my mind and my heart opened in a different way. Back in my living room, in my recliner, that's what I want.

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