Spirituality on the Trail
When you hike the Appalachian Trail there are many hours of solo hiking. You are with your thoughts out in nature and you can not help but examine and think through many different things. One topic I would guess that most people spend a lot of time examining is their spirituality. Whether you believe in a supreme being, whether you are part of an organized religion, it doesn’t matter. I think all of us as humans have some sort of spirituality and it definitely comes to the forefront of your mind on the trail. I’ve had some phenomenal experiences so far not only the private experiences where you look on the beauty of all that’s around you but also with different organizations of people that you meet that share different aspects of public spirituality.
The spiritual aspects of my hike began right in Harper’s Ferry. The owner of the inn I stayed the first two nights is Christian like me. To be specific, I was raised and my wife and I raised our kids Catholic, but I attend all different types of churches and many other spiritual events with many different organizations. At the inn, the owner and I shared some great discussion and fellowship that was initiated by my guitar playing on her front porch. That led to being invited to a jam session up the road that’s been going on for 40 years. We shared a concept of serendipitous spirituality. Where good things with a spiritual bent happen for no reason other than right place, right time, right attitude. Maybe we all need to spread more of that type of thinking around, but that’s maybe a topic for another post. Another spiritual adventure early in my trek right in Harper’s Ferry was sharing two hours with a random stranger jamming on the two guitars I had sitting on the rock wall overlooking the Shenandoah River. We shared a couple of good songs and some nice fellowship. You can not help but feel spiritual when jamming together on a sunny afternoon in a beautiful spot.
These Folks Know How to Have Fun at Church
About three days out from Harpers Ferry it was going to rain so I was looking for either a shelter or someplace to stay dry. I came to a road cross and noticed there was a hostel close by. I called up they had a spot. Turns out it was a Pentecostal church and it was set up very nicely for hikers. Lots of food and lots of space. Comfortable beds, hot shower, electric recharge station, laundry and the best yet is that it was Wednesday night. This was the congregation’s community dinner night complete with Wednesday night service following. Attending both was optional for hikers, but hikers were more than welcome. The dinner was a feast. Think Thanksgiving. And the Wednesday night service was one of the best spiritual experiences I have ever had. These folks know how to praise God. I could feel Jesus and the saints smiling as the congregation was having a church full of energy and excitement singing and dancing. The lively discussion and the pastor’s message was strong but positive. It was just fantastic.
Thank You to All Those Who Serve Others
A few days later, I came into another church run overnight spot in Port Clinton PA. It is right in the middle of the Pennsylvania rocks where you know everybody or most people must be tested because of the rocks. It’s not that it’s hard up and down it’s just monotonous having to keep your head down 10 hours a day watching every step as I previously posted. In but in the middle, you drop into Port Clinton. It has a beautiful pavilion on the banks of the Schuylkill River with another smaller pavilion with fireplace and a few nice benches. It’s just fantastic that the St. John’s church there has that set up for the hikers. However, spirituality does not have to be limited to churches. In Port Clinton, the Firehouse has this plaque of the Fireman’s prayer. Along the trail, many of the story boards describing the history of the area you are passing through also invokes a sense of a spiritual journey.
“Preach the Gospel at All Times, When Necessary, Use Words”
Down the trail a bit, when everyone has had enough of the Pennsylvania rocks, lies the town of Delaware Water Gap, PA. The town can boast of many things, but the greatest, I think is The Church of the Mountain. Aside from being a wonderful local church, it also happens to be the oldest and most senior hostel still on the AT. They know how to do it right. They’ve got all the things that you need as a hiker: shower, bunk room, tenting spots, etc…. but what’s really great is the community. It has a spiritual vibe without making you feel like there is a spiritual vibe. These folks practice one of the greatest ways to demonstrate spirituality, the guiding words were a gift from my friend Carmen. It is how she lives her life. It goes like this: “Preach the gospel at all times, when necessary, use words”.
Welcome the Traveler
I was playing my guitar early Sunday morning away from everyone else in the churches little outdoor bandstand being respectful of the Sunday morning vibe. I headed in to go to their service at 10:00 o’clock. It is a Presbyterian church. I walk in and the usher goes “hey, are you the guy playing the guitar ?” “Yes”, I say. He continues “Our piano player might not show up today, would you like to play some music for the service?” I go “well, I might not know the songbook” etc… The pastor came up and said “Can you do a communion song ? Just pick something you know”. What a treat. I went downstairs to grab the full sized guitar the hostel had since my backpacker wouldn’t necessarily carry the sound in the church. What a great moment. It turned out that the piano player did show up at the last minute, but I still played the communion song. What I did not know, nor did the pastor know, is that her sermon flowed right into the song I had picked to play. She had no idea what I was going to pick, and I had no idea what she was going to preach on that day. Another moment that proves the existence of God. I was in tears presenting this congregation the song. It was David Haas’ “You Are Mine” in case you were wondering.
The Church of the mountain truly lives the “welcome the traveler” commission Jesus gave to His disciples. This place is just amazing and the pastor is phenomenal. Even if you don’t like going to church, if you’re near The Church of the Mountain in Delaware Water Gap, PA on a Sunday, hiker or not, you might want to consider attending the service and listen to the message she delivers. It is practical, reasonable, rational, and ties into today’s issues. She presents in real down to earth language. It is a very special spiritual experience.
Nuns on Golf Carts
Continuing on my journey, and the latest spiritual adventure, I was in New York and happened upon a very unique traffic sign. It turns out that it is on a street that crosses a monastery complex run by the Episcopalian Franciscans. For hikers, they set up a a beautiful tenting spot, a shelter, a shower, they maintain porta potties, etc…. Another spiritual group that welcomes travelers and offers all the hikers’ needs. It’s not the physical pieces of this puzzle that makes this special. It’s the overarching demonstration of creating a space where hikers on a journey can be spiritual. We get many moments like that out in the woods. Having these places to stop, rest, share in a culture of fellowship, are some of the things that makes these stops special. All these efforts, and I hope the ones I have yet to come across, shows these groups and their outreach helps you to know that there are other people in the world that care about people and we’re not all just running headlong into some abyss of negative destructive dystopian future. The world is full of great people. Wouldn’t it be great if everybody was able to take some time do a short hike and look at the spirituality in yourselves ? Just maybe it’ll start to turn around all this craziness we have in the world. Anyway, it’s a very deep subject and just a phenomenal way these people express spiritual connections along the Appalachian Trail.
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The best blog of the year by far. My small section hikes always bring me closer to God and make me a better person in the so-called real world.
Great post! I love to walk in the woods and connect with God as well as worship with others in church! Both are fantastic!
I love this shared write up, the outside is the largest sanctuary. ✝️❤️🙏