Wilderness Time for Whole Health

“…the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” – Luke 3:2
“…Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness..” Luke 4:1

Without reading too much into or over-spiritualizing the matter, I believe there’s a lot of truth and evidence to substantiate the idea that time in the wilderness is important for whole health (spirit, soul, and body).  In modern and ancient times, the wilderness has been both an alluring and frightening place for civilized people.  Lack of human presence and technological manipulation make the wilderness simultaneously a place of freedom and unpredictability, of rich abundance and lack.  In the Bible, trust in God typically goes hand-in-hand with less trust in civilization (the works of man) and more trust in the generosity of God as evidenced in his creation.  Today more people than ever in the history of the world are living in cities (with 81% of its citizens living in cities or suburbs, the U.S. has one of the largest urban populations in the world) which makes spending time in the wilderness more important than ever.  

The Mental and Spiritual Benefits of Time in the Wilderness: Adam, Enoch, Elijah, Elisha, Moses, John the Baptist, and Jesus – all spent time in the wilderness to clearly hear the voice of God.  God reveals his truth to us through his spoken word.  In order to receive his living word we have to listen, but the constant sights and sounds of civilization make that difficult to do.  Unless we very intentionally make space and set boundaries, we are almost constantly bombarded by television, internet, radio, billboards, magazines, imposing architecture, pictures/paintings, i-phones and more.  These sights and sounds are incredibly intrusive and almost inescapable, making it difficult to listen for or hear the still small voice of God.  Even when we go to church on Sunday, there’s often loud music, flashy powerpoint slides, and monologue-style sermons that don’t give us the chance to dialogue and reflect on the truth.  Making the time to get away from it all, with a day-trip to the woods or even to a quiet park, can help provide the space needed to hear from God (you might want to leave your smart phone at home or in the car). Time in the wilderness can also provide the opportunity to meditate, listen to your heart, and gather your own thoughts.  Meditation (thoughtful and peaceful reflection) is scientifically shown to help reduce stress levels and can help to more fully and thoughtfully engage the world.

The Physical Health Benefits of Time in the Wilderness:  Time spent outdoors, away from the city, is less toxic, less busy, and provides the opportunity to re-connect to life.  The evidence that spending time in the wilderness (or outdoors in general) is good for health is growing:  

  • Sunshine causes the skin to produce tons of vitamin D which helps protect against cancer and ensures proper cell function.  With over 81% of us living in cities, working indoors, it’s not surprising that about 50% of Americans are vitamin D deficient and that cancer rates are on the rise.  More time in the sun is also connected with lower rates of depression.
  • Fresh air is good for the lungs and cellular health, but breathing forest air is even healthier.  Several recent studies found that participants who spent several days in densely forested wilderness areas had an enhanced immune system and lower stress levels.  These benefits lasted for about a month. 
  • Connecting to the earth’s surface on sand, grass, or dirt may lower stress levels, thin the blood, and provide a unique source of anti-oxidants.  When we’re indoors and in civilization, however, we’re rarely grounded.
  • The wilderness or outdoors also provide the best places to get exercise.  Running and performing other exercises on varying terrain activates more muscles than what’s activated by monotonous exercise machines. The changing scenery experienced outside also helps take one’s mind off the pain of exercise and makes exercise more like play.

If you want better health, start by getting out where the wild things are (the word wilderness comes from the Old English words wild (animal) and ness (place).  In the beginning God said that it was all good!  We were made to depend on the good gifts in God’s creation.  We shouldn’t be surprised that our health is slipping when we’ve increasingly cut ourselves off from what is living.  Most importantly, how can we have true life when we don’t provide ourselves opportunities to hear the voice of God? “Man shall not live on bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Originally posted 2013-01-15 04:34:00.

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