Survival Training

I have recently come to love cold weather. About three weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a winter survival training course up in the mountains. It was an absolutely incredible experience, but not one I was really looking forward to by any means. The course was to consist of snowshoeing our gear into the backcountry to build a “quinzee” (a snow cave built by piling snow 6 feet high by 12 feet wide, and then hollowing it out) which we were then to sleep in overnight. To say the least, I was convinced I would be spending the weekend cold, wet, and miserable. It sounded like a lot of work for what promised to be a mid-winter’s nightmare. I was wrong.

Father Richard Rohr writes that we often fail to, “see the moment apart from our own agenda.” When we hear about changes or new experiences, we fear that we are losing control. In the same way we fear an upcoming snowstorm, we fear the plan God may be unfolding before us. This is interesting, because Saint Gregory of Nyssa defined sin as “the refusal to keep growing.” When we turn away from an opportunity or a possibility within God’s kingdom, we limit our spiritual potential.

It was about noon on the day that I was supposed to leave for my training course that I had a revelation. I was studying in the library at school when an e-mail popped into my inbox. It was a daily devotion from Richard Rohr. In it, he said, “You cannot really experience reality with [your own] mind, because you divide the moment before you give yourself to it.” It was in reading those words that God broke through the frozen sea inside of me. I decided my mind was filled with fear and as long as I believe I was going to be miserable, I was going to be miserable. So I decided to “give myself” to the moment. I made a conscious decision that I would have a good time no matter what happened. And you know what….I had a great time!

I attended this training with a good friend of mine named Jacob. We took turns pulling our gear on the sled as we snow shoed into the backcountry. Once there, we worked together piling the snow to build our temporary home. After lunch we strapped on “wet suits” and dove in to start hollowing out our cave. The trick was to keep the door small enough so it didn’t disrupt the structure or let in excess cool air. At the same time, every shovel full of snow you removed, you had to shovel out through this little door. It was definitely a work out of breaking ice, tearing apart snow, and maneuvering about while trying to stay dry.

Hollowing out is an interesting process in any situation. Rather it’s a couple of teenagers plowing through a snow cave or a potter removing excess clay to build his masterpiece, it always requires a balance of hard work and delicate precision. This is what God wants for us, and what we need for ourselves. He wants to remove the ice inside of us. But we won’t let Him, because often, to experience God, we have to give up control. We have to let go of our own agendas, and try to recognize the possibility of His.

That night in the quinzee has to be the best night sleep I can remember. The quinzees not only trap heat, they are also completely sound proof and block even the most ferocious wind. And while we were exhausted from a hard day of work worth doing, we stayed up just long enough to do a little worship. Jacob had brought his iPod and we pulled up the song “Starry Night” by Chris August. I hope you have a chance to listen to it. Let me tell you, it is even more impressive on a starry night.

While this course I took was intended as winter training, I think it was the best survival course I could have taken. While I made it through one cold weekend, there is still plenty of fear inside my heart. Like many, I fear what I don’t yet know. I’m scared to leave home. I’m scared to go to college. I’m scared of what my future might hold. But through this experience, I know that if I can keep an open mind and trust God, I will survive.

Perhaps the old adage is true: reality is perception. This week, may you open your mind so that God can hollow out any ice or snow that keeps you from experiencing the new reality He has in store for YOU.

Zach Herzog


1 comment (Add your own)

1. David Erickson-Pearson wrote:
Thanks for the good word Zach! This is a lesson that all of us need to be reminded of.

Tue, February 8, 2011 @ 10:13 AM

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