“Face down” isn’t just descriptive of worship, it also portrays an entire generation that is “face down” into cell phones and social media. It’s a good thing the Hindenburg didn’t explode over the heads of this SmartPhone culture. We would have missed it while keeping tabs on what the Kardashians are doing.
That’s my thirty seconds of sarcasm.
Honestly, as a pastor of a twenty-something church, technology claims a fair amount of my time, too. I can’t afford to merely look a teensy bit hip with goatee, jeans, and a sometimes functional sense of humor. I have to know my way around web site administration, simple html, graphics development, emails, and marketing.
That’s why the idea of heading into the wilds of Minnesota without access to cyberspace seemed so radical to this workaholic. I might miss something.
It never dawned on me that I might miss a lot of things by not doing it.
The moment came when we were milling around the campsite and someone said, “Here goes, here goes!” Heads turned toward something going on in the sky. I craned my neck just in time to see a bald eagle swoop down and deftly pluck a fish out of the lake. The whole scene had been precisely framed within some pine branches for me, as perfectly as if on a big screen television.
I had seen an eagle catch fish on film clips, but never fifty yards away from me, while I watched in sneakers wet with the same water it fished in. There was a predatory coolness to the bird that went beyond Dirty Harry—something both poetic and savage.
On the first evening of camp, catching fish was like herding cats. We only got a few, and that was after a lot of effort. Our group leader, Bill Wegman, caught a couple of bass, and put them on the stringer at shore side for the dinner fish fry. When it was time to cook, he went down to get them. The fish weren’t there. A twenty-five pound snapping turtle had stolen them and sat not far away, chopping their carcasses into sushi balls. The turtle had severed the largest fish with surgical exactitude, and then mangled the smaller one until it looked like a wadded rag. We tried to convince it to move on, but the animal wasn’t intimidated. Instead, it barred a couple of jaws that promised to slice any hands, feet, or boat paddle that came too close.
Things at Night
Although we didn’t encounter any bears, challenges came from the opposite end of the food chain.
Mice. The little rodents found out that we had trail mix—the kind with peanuts and raisins and m& m’s. And so the battle between man and beast began. They got into our tents and ran across us while we were sleeping. One of them ate a hole through Rob’s shirt pocket looking for goodies. The guys took to keeping their tent doors zipped at all times. But the mice were hardly deterred. They scaled the sides of the tents to the top, looking for entrance from above. When that didn’t work out for them, they began gnawing holes in the sides of the tents. I became a light sleeper and learned to wake at the sound of a dozen feet running across tarps, tearing and scratching. Two or three times a night. Usually a hard swat to the side of my tent was enough to interrupt nightly rodent break-ins.
I’m okay with mice because they look like small hamsters—something you’d buy in a pet shop. But not spiders. Once during the trip I beached our canoe next to a giant tree that had an exposed root system. What I thought had been a lump on one of the roots turned out to be a wolf spider the size of a saucer plate. On another occasion, I sat down to eat lunch and later realized my feet hung over a rock where another one the same size—presumably the first one’s brother—had crouched the whole time. Cold shivers.
Remarking upon all these sights, one of my camping buddies said, “Man, if we’ve seen these few things and think they’re awesome, what about all the stuff out here that we don’t see?”
That got me thinking. Not only about turtles and eagles and spiders and mice, of bear and moose, and of giant fish I haven’t caught, but an entire world full of invisible drama.
Most of life’s epic moments go undetected.
Like things in the spiritual realm.
I recall walking down a Louisiana road many years ago. A pickup approached behind me and then swerved off into a ditch. The driver got out, saw me, and said, “Tie rod must’ve busted.” I dimly realized that with a slight change of physics, the truck could just as easily have run off into the opposite direction.
I could be under that truck right now, I thought.
But I kept heading toward the fishing hole without any insight into what might be in the air above me or in the depths beneath or just plain hidden from my sight. Bass and Bluegill were on my mind, not angelic struggles, dark intentions, interventions, or divine deliverance.
We live life largely oblivious of the events around us. Because we have received the Holy Spirit, we detect hints that they happen—like an eagle here, or a turtle there, but if we knew the spiritual stage drama swirling around us most of the day, we’d probably live different lives.
1 Cor. 2:9 But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.
Photo: A camp pic of me, with a Photoshop watercolor rendering applied.