Robert Lloyd Praeger, the Irish naturalist, described it as ‘the very loneliest place’ in Ireland. He was talking about the bogs of Erris, in northwest Mayo, that he traversed when he walked the Bangor Trail. It is mountain, moorland and bog and no habitation for miles and miles and miles. Praeger then made a most profound comment about the wilderness. “You are thrown at the same time back upon yourself and forward against the mystery and majesty of nature, and you may feel dimly something of your own littleness and your own greatness…”
The wildness and the emptiness of the place make you ask questions of yourself. How will I survive this? Can I cross it? Will it be too much for me? At the same time the very power and grandeur of the place draws you forward, calls you to embark on a great adventure, with the promise of what new vistas will come into view, what new places you will discover.
Isn’t this our experience of life itself. Sometimes it can feel too much for us, too sad, too lonely, too frightening to face. At other times it draws us forward with feelings of excitement and the promised joy of adventure and discovery.
Jesus in the wilderness felt the force of these conflicting emotions, and the temptation to take the easy road out of all the issues he would face in the journey of his life. But he chose the Bangor Trail. He chose to walk the road that led through bog and bracken and over bog brown streams to a destination he could not see. He came to the ‘very loneliest place’, when he was arrested and nailed to a tree. But he trusted in God and God set him free.
In life, as on the Bangor Trail, be prepared for the wilderness. Take strong shoes, good clothes, a tent for shelter, and a map. Best of all do not travel alone. Find good companions. And remember this. The world can seem frightening at times and we can lose trust in ourselves, lose confidence. But the journey is magnificent and calls you on. Take it in stages and a good sleep will renew you for the day.
Each day consult your map. It is the word of God and it will lead you home.
6 March 2022