A Tent in the Wilderness

by Karissa Knox Sorrell

I live in a world where people pitch tents all time. I see them in their tents every day on Facebook, blogs, and Twitter. They stake their claim on a spot of land and defend it vigorously. Sometimes I put up a tent, too, on top of a tall soapbox from which I rant and rave. The problem is that for every tent up on a mountainside, there’s a tent in the valley, claiming that its place is better.

It’s getting harder and harder to see where I am. I was so busy setting up camp next to the right people and right opinions that I missed the doe and her fawn sneaking through the brush. I was so focused on defending my territory that I ignored the star-rise in the twilight sky. The air was laced with fall bonfire smoke, and I might have pulled up a chair to warm myself, but I was perfecting the inside of my tent instead.

The Christian faith has been reduced to argument, to fact and certainty, to proofs and defenses. I can’t wade through it all anymore. We’ve tried to contain God inside all of our human semantics and projections, but he is too big for that. I long to sense him away from all the theologizing and theorizing. I want to know him simply, naturally, without fuss and pomp. Perhaps finding him is easier than we make it out to be.

In her book Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor wrote about being at the edge of the spiritual map: “There were no slate roofs or signs to the restroom out there, no printed programs or friendly ushers. There was just the unscripted encounter with the undomesticated God whose name was unpronounceable – that, and a bunch of flimsy tents lit up by lanterns inside, pitched by those who were either seeking such an encounter or huddling in their sleeping bags while they recovered from one.”

Give me the wilderness, because that’s the only place I can find God anymore. I can’t find him in the emotional gushing, and I can’t find him in the ancient prayers, and I can’t find him in the scholarly theology. But I can hear his presence in the wind, and I can see his greatness in the round, full moon, and I can taste his beauty in fruit from the tree.

Give me the wasteland, because that’s where I belong now. The tents out here are old and torn, and sometimes the sand and rain get in. But the touch of the natural elements on my skin speaks of creation and mercy.

Give me the misfits, because they look like me. Exhausted from trying, frustrated with old formulas, in awe at the beauty of their new home out here. I open my ragged tent to them, we share some bread, and I find hope in their eyes.

Give me the silence, because it has so much more to say that the arguments do. I listen carefully, and the silence sings of rest, nourishment, and gifts. My stuttering heart relaxes and welcomes a world full of fingerprints and footprints of beloved creatures.

I’ll pitch my tent at the edge of map, wherever that is. I hope you might join me. Together we can carry the buckets of water from the stream and gather twigs for the fire. As the day gets dark, you can tell me your story, and I’ll tell you mine, and maybe, just as the last streak of light flickers on the horizon, we’ll find God.

Karissa Knox Sorrell is a writer and educator from Nashville, Tennessee. She has an MFA from Murray State University, and her poetry and nonfiction have been published in a variety of journals, including Relief, St. Katherine Review, Catapult Magazine, Parable Press, and FlycatcherKarissa works with ESOL teachers and students in Nashville’s public school system. Read more of her writing on her blog, or follow her on Twitter @KKSorrell

Image is from here.

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