Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Wilderness as the Training Ground for Prophets: Part 1

By Josh Gross

Across all ages, creeds, cultures, and regions of Earth there have been those who claimed to feel closer to God (or whatever power they worship) while out in nature. Many people even today say they feel more at peace, more spiritual, in the wilderness. However, there are some individuals who experience the divine so concretely in the outdoors that they come back changed. They return to civilization preaching a message so profound that it shakes the foundations of their societies. These people are called prophets, and an usually large number of them begin their ministries after spending time in the wilderness.

But, why? What is it about the wilderness that makes it such a good training ground for prophets? In this series of blog posts I will attempt to answer that question.

Of course, before trying to figure out why the wilderness is a good training ground for prophets I must first establish that it is. In order to do so properly I'd need to conduct a vast amount of research. I would have to become painstakingly familiar with the lives of as many prophets as possible, so that I could determine just how many of them began preaching after spending an extended amount of time in nature. Since I'm not a full-time academic, there's no way I could perform such an extensive study this year. Fortunately I don't have to, because far greater human beings than myself already have.

One of these individuals is T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia. While he was an undergraduate at Oxford he walked across Syria  to examine Crusader castles. He then spent four years excavating the ancient city of Carchemish (on the border of what is today Syria and Turkey) before playing a highly influential role in the Arab Revolt during World War I. What this means is that he spent a great deal of time in the part of the world where all three major monotheistic religions were born. He lived in the same wilderness in which countless prophets heard their calls.

What's more, Lawrence noticed the same pattern as me. Here's what he had to say about it:
The Arabs said there had been forty thousand prophets: we had records of at least some hundreds. None of them had been themselves of the wilderness, but their lives followed a pattern. Their birth set them in crowded places. An unintelligible, passionate yearning drove them out into the desert. There they lived a greater or lesser time in meditation and physical abandonment: and then they returned with their imagined message articulated, and preached it to their elderly, and now doubting associates.
Of course whether these prophets' messages were imagined is something each individual must decide for themselves, but that's another discussion for another time. The point is that a period of wandering preceded their greatest work.

It is important to note that the two most significant religious figures of our time followed this pattern. Jesus Christ spent forty days in the desert before beginning his public ministry. In addition, the Prophet Muhammad began proclaiming the message that became Islam after visiting a cave on the outskirts of Mecca.

It's highly unlikely that this pattern emerged by chance. Therefore I don't believe it's a coincidence that so many spiritual movers spent large amounts of time in nature; alone. I believe there's something about the outdoors that makes it easier to experience God there.

In the next part of this series, I will begin to examine what it is that makes the wilderness such a good training ground for prophets. If this sounds like something you're interested in then check back regularly! I hope I'll be able to post the next part of "The Wilderness as the Training Ground for Prophets" before the holidays, but if not I'll have it up soon after.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Whatever happen to the second part.. The call of a prophet is not like any call, the wilderness will build you or it will kill you. Many that go into this understand that it's not one that's easy like other callings.