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Embracing the wilderness


The wildernesses of our world, says Rev. Greg Lawton, can be places of refuge as we seek true reliance on God and grow in faith.

Director of Camping and Outreach, Lake Louise Christian Community

In the Revised Common Lectionary for this Sunday, we hear a story of jealousy from Genesis 21. Sarah, having given birth to Isaac by Abraham, now resents her actions in producing an heir for her husband through their servant, Hagar. Sarah is jealous of the attention Abraham shows Ishmael and is concerned about how the boy Ishmael enjoys the newborn Isaac, so she orders that Hagar and the boy be sent out. Abraham complies with her demands but offers compassion through water and some bread.

Hagar and Ishmael are sent out—away from home, away from security, away from community—into a desolate place. The water and the bread don’t last long, and Hagar abandons the boy in a shaded area and goes a distance to sit, cry, and pray. She’s at the end of her resources. She cries out to God with a prayer like the one we find in Psalm 86:16, “Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant; save the child of your maidservant” (NRSVUE). The Lord God almighty answers her. All shall be well. There is water to drink. There is hope. And there, in this wilderness, is life.

Wilderness can take on many forms. A wilderness can look like street after street of abandoned houses. It can look like a vast forest or a rolling desert. It can be a city center that no longer draws commerce or interest. Lake Louise Christian Community is nestled in pines, hills, and lakes in the northern uplands of the Lower Peninsula. It doesn’t feel like wilderness after a few weeks of being here, but if you’re visiting from a bustling city or suburb, it can feel isolated, overly quiet, or desolate when one first arrives.

But the wilderness is where the wise retreat to pray. It’s a place where we can shed the trappings of material life and find true community, connection, and reliance on God. It’s also a place where jealousy, envy, and coveting can fade away. Jesus practiced going into the wilderness for prayer, for strength, and to refine his call. The early church mothers (ammas) and fathers (abbas) went to the wilderness to escape the temptations of urban life and live simply. The wilderness has been a destination and refuge for many looking to lay bare all the baggage of life and sit before the presence of God.

The wilderness of Lake Louise isn’t very wild. We have many creature comforts. The food at camp is excellent, the beds welcoming, and many buildings even have air conditioning. But it is a place where the wise retreat to pray. Teens and adults have been doing that since 1934. Families and younger children have begun finding their place here as well. Most weeks throughout the year are filled with groups on retreat, and our summer months are busy with campers, counselors, and those who come to serve their neighbors. Several people live here year-round.

This is the kind of wilderness that builds community, not isolation. It is a place for sharing and answering prayers. It is also a place for growth. It is fitting that summer camp occurs in Kingdomtide, that lengthy season after Pentecost when we are all encouraged to grow in our faith. Whether you are driven to the wilderness by the forces around you or come on your own accord, remember that God is present everywhere and is waiting to greet you.

Rev. Greg Lawton is a deacon of the Michigan Conference and serves as the Director of Camping and Outreach at Lake Louise Christian Community near Boyne Falls, MI. For more information on summer camps for all ages or year-round retreats for spiritual renewal, visit www.lakelouisecommunity.org or contact Greg at [email protected].

Last Updated on June 15, 2023

The Michigan Conference