Wilderness

Just finished another novel by Robert Penn Warren: Wilderness. It’s my eighth by this great Southern writer.

He could try, he thought, to be worthy of their namelessness, and of what they, as men and in their error, had endured.

As we consider the journey of life, could these last words go some way in helping us understand what is meant? Moments earlier the narrator refers to the “fullness of time and human effort.” Some big words there. I’ve given quite a bit of thought to what it means when we refer to “being human.” Although scary at times and uncertain all the time, the wilderness invites into its unknown paths in the same way God invites us to trust Him as He leads down “unknown paths” (Isaiah 42.16). The wilderness is synonymous with a life of adventure; a life of conviction; a life of meaning. It’s taking the first step into the unknown. It signifies the turning and facing of one’s fears and a careful introspection of one’s own heart. Beyond this, however, it promises nothing—certainly not safety.

In Wilderness, Adam goes on an epic journey in order to come to a place—maybe even the same place, or even no place—with a different heart. But to get to this new heart he first had to go into the Wilderness, face his fears and his handicap, and act. To get to the point of action, however, even there, he first had to take that first step across the ocean from his native Germany, not even knowing, he admits, to what he was drawn in the first place. That first step was the not-so-simple decision to stop and listen to the faintest traces of his own heart’s voice. It was responding to the inner cry to be more.

The last page gives a brief mention to notions of betrayal. The point is that we could try to know that the truth is unbetrayable, and that only the betrayer is ever betrayed, and then only by his own betraying. But this only acknowledges a Larger Story, a narrative beyond the telling of Adam’s story—your story, my story—even though our own stories occur within the context of the Larger Story. Ultimately life is about freedom. Once we get to the point where our coping skills and methods no longer work–for Adam it was his handicap, our restlessness either owns us or drives us. Galatians 5:1 reveals to us that Jesus didn’t need any other reason than freedom. Your freedom, my freedom was enough. Freedom is enough. We betray ourselves when we settle for anything less. Thus only the betrayer can be betrayed.

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