Have you ever slept under the stars? Not just “outside” but really under the stars. No tent, just you and what NASA believes to be 100 billion of the nearest celestial bodies that make up our galactic neighborhood called the Milky Way. If you are aiming to sleep under the stars I’d recommend starting in Moab. The clear desert sky makes the interstellar lights seem just an arms length away.
That is where I started, almost. Alex and I had just ridden the White Rim trail: 108 miles, 9 hours, 3 liters of water, 11 energy gels, 5 nectarines, and 3 peanut toffee Cliff Bars later we were done. We had gone big and although we had forgotten our map in the truck, we navigated through the painted landscapes of Canyon Lands National Park. We were dancing with a creation that made us feel very, very small.
It was a thrilling adventure and one we shared with our friends. Our expedition also included Donnie, David and Nko who had climbed the sheer rock face of Castleton tower. Together, with two hang glider pilots, we had played hard in the desert and were ready to eat the bubbling red chili that simmered slowly over the glowing fire. After trading tales, inhaling steaming chili and enjoying the refreshment of cold drinks we were ready to sleep.
When it came time for bed each of us went our own way. Alex back to his black Toyota with the ever faithful adventure dog Molly. Me to my 1995 red 4runner and the glider pilots back to their marvelous blue tent. Our alpine oriented friends simply rolled out their pads and zipped up their bags with only the sky as a canopy above them.
As I willed my aching body into the back of my 4runner, Donnie kindly asked me why I didn’t sleep outside. “Mountain lions and snakes,” I mumbled as I slid into the relative safety of my truck. He smiled knowingly, the kind of smile you get from a brother of 10 years who knows you’re just plain scared. I slept like a rock and awoke to find everyone in tact, no blood splattered remains from a fresh lion kill nor mummified friends poisoned by an angry desert rattlesnake.
They survived. Maybe I’d survive if I slept outside? Since that trip I’ve been to Moab four more times, the closest I got to the stars was through the ripstop nylon walls of my North Face tent. I’m still scared of the lions and snakes. To my credit, I did start one night outside only to feel the creeping suspicion that I was not safe. I crawled back into the protected domain of my 2 lb 4 oz North Face tent, pulled up my zipper (all the way closed) and drifted to sleep.
Safety is a perceived reality isn’t it?
Last time I checked 200 pounds of highly evolved cougar could peel back nylon without much more than a flick of one of his 4 inch long razor sharp claws. I encountered a cougar once near my home in Colorado. Pure power, whisper silent, lightening fast and a stare that will chill you for months.
So what was it about the tent that made me feel safe? I think it’s the walls.
We feel safe when we know the boundaries around us.
Having served as a pastor for ten years now I am realizing that this is how we often function in our relationship with God. Specifically as it pertains to dreaming with God and moving in the creative streams. We are told that we can create and dream as long as we stay within the walls of tradition and keep our offerings accessible to the masses. We are reminded that it will go well for us when we respect boundaries. It is though creativity is accepted as long as when you bring your gift, it works seamlessly within the presumed paradigm of an ecclesiological or theological framework. It is almost as though the message is, “You are free to create, just please don’t crack anything, or anyone, wide open!”
Let’s be honest, safety and captivity aren’t all that different.
Creating and dreaming in this environment never allows us to be fully exposed to God and the infinite beauty and worth of knowing Him. Exposing ourselves to God in honesty is the first step to having our lives shaped by the reality of WHO God really is, not simply who we imagine Him to be. I believe that it is exposure to God, in all of His Mystery and Glory that expands our creative lens enough to see new possibilities, craft fresh expressions and actually become voices, calling out the wonders of God, not merely echoes of what we already see being done.
The prophet Habakkuk was compelled to seek God in this way. He voiced his feelings to God in the middle of a bewildering circumstance. At this time in Israel’s history God was doing something that seemed to make no sense at all. Rather than ducking under the cover of pat answers and bumper sticker theology he dared to boldly voice his questions and complaints to God.
“God you are from eternity aren’t you? God you can’t be serious? Why don’t you do something about this? Why are you silent now?” (Hab.1.12-13)
I don’t think a day passes that many of us don’t carry these same thoughts towards God. Habakkuk just had the guts to voice them.
What is so powerful is that it was in response to those bold questions that God spoke! God really spoke! God revealed Himself in such a profound way that the prophet affirmed the goodness of God in the past, prayed for it to be renewed in His day and wrote these words of transcendent, God exalting worship that have been life to God worshippers for thousands of years:
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Hab. 3.17-18)
Habakkuk began where we all begin, with our puzzled prayers and clouded understanding. Habakkuk was willing to stand under the stars, exposed to the reality of God. Before too long, from the lookout tower of his questions, He was given a fresh glimpse of God. God gave his heart strength. God put a new song in his mouth giving voice to all of us, beckoning all of us who would dare to ask these questions to believe that God’s rule will prevail and His love will endure forever.
As Habakkuk asked his big questions he tells us that he braced for the worst. But when God came, God came in Love. He always comes in Love. You can ask Him something today that you don’t know the answer to. Seek him with all your heart FROM your place of questions and uncertainty. Just make sure you have something to write with because His revelation will come. It may seem slow in it’s coming but trust God, what you need is on the way. God will arrive right on time and the experience will give you a fresh revelation to run with. Craft it into a song, a story, a message or a painting. Carry it to the people of God pointing the way back to Him.