Hiking, scheduled hikes, St Nikolai Velimirovich, Wahrani Nature Trail

Wahrani: Pursuing Purity and Light

“Separated from the virginity of the soul and the light of the heart, the mind is the shadow of the Son of God and the reverse of Wisdom.” Saint Nikolai Velimirovich Prayers by the Lake LXIII

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In preparation for today’s hike on the Wahrani Nature Trail, I figured I’d find a prayer I could keep in mind along the way. The word of the modern Serbian sage Nikolai Velimirovich seems to have a finger on what is wrong with our society.  Our minds are detached from what brings life.

Our Lord was pure as was His Mother and Forerunner.   But, that purity meant more than just not having sexual contact.  Christ and the saints did not put their minds to toxifying their souls.  Even those holy people, known and unknown, pursued a path of purity practicing repentance when they fell rather than make and live in excuses for sins.  They understood that if the mind was put on the right path, the rest of their being would follow.  Christ and the apostles encouraged disciples to walk in light and live as children of light.  No matter how many times one fell short, the standard of brightness from righteous living was to guide the heart of all believers.

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Satan tempted man with the idea that they could be like God even though they were unable to make things exist from nothing. Had the minds of Adam and Eve been on their deep virginity and light from God, they may have known better than to fall for such a false promise.  They were not watchful over their wonderful gifts and exchanged them for the corruption that robbed them of immortality.

We have not learned from their story. We do not pursue purity and light.  Instead, we use our minds to concoct all sorts of excuses for chasing after power and indulging in desires.  As we apply the name of Jesus to our distortions rather than be remorseful and repent.  By doing this, we prove ourselves to be as rotten as the rest of the world we have given into; criticizing the specks in each other’s eyes without removing the beams in our own.

Oh Lord, let me not contribute to the problem. Keep my mind away from self-justification.  Obedience to You grants life, not the empty words of a snake.  Direct me in the ways of  purity and light that I may walk in your ways and fully repent when I stumble.

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Hiking, Stanford University Study, Trisagion

Your Home in Nature

Too often, when people think about spending time in the great outdoors, they think of one of the well known national parks such as the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone.  Others will daydream of an African safari or a Patagonia journey.  For those who are lucky enough to live near or afford to go to such places on a regular basis, enjoy your blessing to the fullest.

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The rest of us need not feel cursed.  The Psalter teach that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness there of” (Psalms 24:1).  Wherever there is a place that God owns, we can find his presence there.  This point is also made in the first of the Trisagion prayers, “Oh Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth who are in all places and fills all things.”  While the Appalachians or Denali are places of great majesty, the presence of the holy can be found in one’s municipal park and back yard.

The Stanford University Study comparing a walk in a natural versus urbanized area didn’t take place in extreme, far-flung locations.  One subject walked in a wooded lot near the campus while the other strolled along a busy thoroughfare also near the school.  Also, the person in the natural area was not engaged in rock climbing, white-water kayaking, or some other extreme activity.  She was taking a walk.  A road trip and camping excursion to the upper Missouri River sounds terrific.  But, to make a home in the natural world, it is impractical unnecessary.

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Start with where you are and where you can go most often.  The frequency and amount of time spent is up to you.  Urban gardens may not offer miles of hiking.  But, they are useful to sit and collect one’s thoughts and say a prayer.  When you have found that special local place, make it yours .  Take a few photos as the seasons change.  Keep a journal dedicated to your place to jot down thoughts, poems, or even try a sketch or two.  Get involved with a group that beautifies and protects it.

Your outdoor healing place may never be listed as one of the 7 wonders of the world.  It doesn’t matter.  As long as you walk away from it better than you were when you walked into it, nothing else matters.

Hiking, scheduled hikes, Wahrani Nature Trail

First Hike: Wahrani Nature Trail

Pathseekers Wahrani Hike Flyer

You’d think I’d start inviting people to hike and pray where I work.  York River State Park is an excellent place to explore and seek peace in mind.  I will take this ministry there soon in some way or another.

But, I want to begin at a good little trail in my back yard.  Wahrani is just below West Point in New Kent.  It used to be the nature trail for the Chesapeake Corporation.  According to Hiking Upwards, the origin of the name is a little interesting.  I like the ravines and am a sucker for little non-tidal streams.  The nearly 3.5 miles do not have the most impressive views.  But, this is a good place for locals to walk, pray, and feel free to ask a question or two about Orthodox Christianity and how I came to the faith.

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No, I will not hold a gun to anyone’s head and expect a conversion.  Hey, if you want to bring your Bible, devotional booklet, prayer book, or whatever from your particular denomination and faith tradition, go ahead.  I am only inviting people to walk and pray in the natural world.  If interested, call or send an e-mail.

 

Arsenius, Fr. Seraphim Rose, Hiking, monasticism, Uncategorized

Church, Home, & Trail: A Trinity

As a devout Christian, I attend worship services every Sunday and mid-week when possible.  Sadly, some believers have begun to shun church membership thinking that it is better not to be surrounded with others who may be hypocritical sinners.  Not going to church because it is full of flawed people is like not going to the gym because it has too many out of shape people.  We are all struggling with faults and failures.  A good church is a hospital for sick souls.  I know my spiritual illnesses.  So, I get my medication every week from God with my brothers and sisters who love me, and I them.

Taking spiritual medicine only at church on Sunday is no different than following doctor’s orders only in the hospital.  Real healing and growth comes from being consistent in nearness to God every day.  So, I keep a daily rule consisting of prayers, scripture, and the writings of early Christians.  I confess that I am better at keeping this in the mornings than evenings.  But, having a standard regimen is very helpful to be repentant, avoid pitfalls, and feel the love of God and others.

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I have found that spending time in nature works in concert with my time in church and home.  The building and portion of my house where I worship are all man-made.  The tiny stream and mighty river that greet me every workday morning were not made by contractors.  Even though the trails were created by hard working staff and volunteers, no one makes trees and shrubs.  The outdoors is its own cathedral.

Sometimes we Christians forget our heritage in the outdoors. But, our places away from the hassle and hustle of the cities and towns have been quite inspirational.  The prophet Elijah fled to Mount Horeb to Jezebel’s persecution (1 Kings 19:1-18).  Our Lord taught thousands of seekers in a lonely place and fed them with a few fish and loaves of bread (Mark 6:30-43).  Arsenius left the imperial comfort and status of Rome to live silently in the desert.  In our times, Seraphim Rose found it far more beneficial to live in prayer and writing in the Platina, California forest than in San Francisco.

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Do we all need to become monks and nuns?  That is the calling of only a few of us.  Do we all have to take major hikes to remote places?  Health, time, urbanization, and other issues place limits on where we can go and for how long.  But, don’t let these things be excuses to not go anywhere and do anything.  Take a pocket New Testament on a city park bench a couple of free mornings.  Use your prayer beads and ropes while walking in a suburban green space after work every now and then.  Do what is in your tradition right where you are.

Your practice of faith outdoors need not be elaborate.  The earth is God’s footstool.  Footstools are not centerpieces of our furniture.  But, they do add comfort to the weary.  And sometimes that little bit of rest they provide is what we need for healing and becoming closer to the One who gives rest.

Uncategorized

Hiking Around the “Humature”

I am no fan of heat and humidity. This is a combination that only gives misery and discomfort.  Indeed, many people who like the outdoors dread this time of year because of temperatures in the nineties with enough humidity that it really feels as if it is 100+ degrees.  I remember one weatherman called this “humature.”

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Hiking in the early morning, or very late evening are the best ways to enjoy the natural world in such conditions. A mid-day hike during a heat advisory is foolhardy, even if one takes sufficient hydration.  To avoid hiking altogether during the summer is to cheat one’s self of one of the finest phases of the year with its lush greens and fragrant scents.  As said in the old Negro spiritual, “trouble don’t last always,” neither do 90+ degree temperatures and “humatures.”  If we make our way around the heat and humidity, being outdoors in the summer is a liberating and refreshing experience.

As in the rest of the South, slavery was a cruel and harsh existence for African-Americans in southeast Virginia and northeast North Carolina. A handful of bondsmen, led by Nat Turner, took up arms in rebellion against their lot.  They failed and he was hanged.  But to remain a slave was not acceptable and death seemed preferable.  A couple of them ran away from their plantations to the inhospitable Dismal Swamp.  In the midst of the bears, mosquitoes, snakes and wetland; they found freedom.  Slave patrollers figured that any Negro that went into the swamp would die there.  But, they didn’t.  Eventually, other runaways came there.  Over time, these African-Americans created a community of Maroons that lived and thrived in spite of antebellum America giving in to neither being slaves nor rebelling with arms.

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Our Lord would rise up early in the morning and go to lonely places to pray (Mark 1:35). By doing this, Jesus could focus on His purpose and continue his work (vv. 38, 39).  He would also separate Himself from the crowds, including friends in the late evening (6:45, 46).  Afterward, Jesus did what seemed impossible and gave comfort to the fearful in their darkest hour (vv. 48-51).  Of course our Lord prayed in temples, taught with great authority, and did wonderful miracles whenever and wherever.  But, we have been given an example of when to seek God where we can be alone; mountains and lonely places in the morning and evening.

Once when the faith became legalized in the fourth century, many people became Christians with worldly and wrong motives. Churches became numerous and filled in nearly every city and town.  This bothered some of the most faithful believers.  Among them was an African named Pachomius.  He and other Desert Fathers saw that staying in the “world” was spiritual suicide.  But, to live in harsh seclusion alone, such as Anthony the Great, was not for everyone.  So, Pachomius gathered together likeminded men and developed the first Christian monasteries with a shared rule of prayer and worship.  He avoided the extremes and found how and where he and others could meet God.

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Do not let the harshness of life keep you from the freedom to unite with God. Avoid the traps on the left and right.  There is a place to meet the Lord beyond the extremes most readily seen and surrendered to in the world.  Hike in the morning, if possible, when the temperature is at its coolest point.  Go for a walk, if you can, as the sun is not beaming down on you.  Don’t give in to waiting until the fall to get outdoors.  Don’t go out during heat advisories and the middle of the day if you can help it.  If that’s the only time available, don’t move too much nor too quickly for too long.  And drink plenty of fluids.  Find your path.