07/24/2012 07:29 am ET Updated Sep 23, 2012

Nathan Troutman Blumenshine: Finding Sanctuary In The Wilds Of Creation

Who evolves spiritually? Is it up to old, wise men in caves, preachers in mega churches, or the best-selling new age authors? All of the world's religions are converging on our shores for the first time: Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and more. Maybe, just maybe, it's the young people who are waking up? In this culture, people's spiritual lives tend to be either very public or very private and rarely do they share the inner, guiding parts of life. So, here are stories of seeking, confusion and discovery as experienced by us. You know, the ones plugged into smartphones and meeting friends for drinks. Listen as we open our hearts. See for yourself. Are we lost to the well entertained and superficial, or is there a secret life of deeper longing and curiosity that may just help save us all?
If you are a young adult (18-35 years old) interested in sharing your spiritual story of discovery, send an email to

The mosquitoes biting into my shoulder blades must be the kind without the anesthetic in their saliva. They linger with such confidence. It seems they must know that there is no way I can slap them without taking my hands off the gunwales of the 80-pound wood canvas canoe I am carrying. My shoulders ache from the weight of the boat and my right foot is sore from the rock that's been lodged in my boot since the beginning of the portage. On top of that, it's a scorcher. I am sunburned from several days of paddling on the open lake and each drop of sweat feels like a needle in my skin.

Maybe this isn't the typical way to begin a story about faith -- especially since my story is one of joy rather than suffering. And it's true, I could tell you about reaching the summit of Cotopaxi, a glacier rimmed volcano in the Ecuadoran Andes, in time to watch the sunrise from 19,000 feet. Or I could tell you about paddling with beluga whales during a 40-day canoe trip near the Arctic Ocean. But faith is about more than splendor. My faith, my spirituality, my religion -- call it what you will -- is about connection.

And, right now, I could not be more connected to the mosquitoes driving their stingers into my skin.

I can see the end of the trail and the sight of the lake inspires me to make my final push. The mosquitoes are still there, and so is the sunburn, but as I approach the shoreline there is something else. I step into the thick mud with the canoe still on my shoulders. The water swirls around my ankles and fills my boots. The cool relief spirals up my legs, through my spine, and into my aching shoulders. Wading out clear of any rocks, I could unburden myself of the heavy load but not quite yet. First, I offer up a silent prayer.

The feeling of the water, only up to my shins, engulfs my entire body. It connects me to the life that I have spent in and around this lake and forest. I recall beautiful memories from my youth. I can see the morning mist starting to lift as I navigate the rocky shore to take a early dip and I can feel the shock of jumping through the ice after sweating it out in the sauna.

Swiftly, the memories pass and I am present again. I smell the red pines warming in the sun and I hear the cries of excitement from my traveling companions as they approach the landing, bearing their own heavy loads.

All of these experiences come to me while the water washes over my ankles. It is as if the lake has stored my whole life in its depths. But it is not just my story: I feel connected to a soul much greater than my own. The thousands of others who have paddled this lake and camped on its shores are also there. In my heart I know that I am connected to them all.

Spirituality is a big part of my life. I go to church every Sunday, I wear a silver cross around my neck, and I pray before every meal. But these actions are not what it means for me to be spiritual, they simply remind me of my faith. My faith comes from the wilderness.

So why am I a Christian if my most powerful spiritual experiences happen in nature? My faith tells me to follow Jesus by loving my neighbor as myself. I want my faith to guide me in everything that I do. Too often though, because of my busy schedule, distractions on TV or worries about the future, I feel disconnected from my surroundings and even myself. Being in the wild teaches me to be aware of everything around me, so that I can live compassionately. For me, there are no tests of faith in the woods, only affirmations. Stepping into the lake, my distractions fade and I have clear focus.

I can see that the lake I am standing in is part of an important system that gives life and beauty. The water lapping onto my shins makes me a part of it too. It makes me feel like I am a small but significant part of all Creation. Connected, without distractions, as I am in this lake, it is not difficult to think of loving my neighbor.

I take a couple more steps away from shore. I flip down the canoe. Ripples spread outward on the diamond-sparkle surface of Burntside Lake. I am the wealthiest man in the world. There is nothing that I desire more than what I have in this moment. I dive in.

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Finding Sanctuary In The Wilds Of Creation