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Tent Talk: Unexpected Treasures

If you ever find yourself in the wilds of Alaska, stuck in a tent with an obnoxious teenager, you will wish you had read this article by Lauren Anderson. In it she recounts her experience of a surprising opportunity to talk about the big questions of life. Are humans more than animals? Did the universe come from nothing? -Editor

During the month of July, I embarked on an outdoor adventure that would test my tolerance for adverse weather, steep boulder-clad slopes, and adolescent men with drug and attitude problems. My sea-kayaking and backpacking trip through south-central Alaska, indeed, was more of a social challenge than a physical challenge. The challenge was that the average age of my eleven-member student group was seventeen. The culture shock of interacting (for the first time ever in my life) with teens from affluent families and worldly backgrounds of blatant abuse of drugs, alcohol, and sex, was quite shocking and rather dismaying. One lad, in particular, let’s call him Peter, was a huge test of my patience due to his meticulous ability to shirk most work with procrastination and poor excuses, his disrespect of others made apparent by his colorful and repugnant vocabulary, and his disrespect of the environment, which was unfortunately exacerbated by his laziness. It pains me to speak ill of so ill of one, however, which is why I am quite pleased to relay my best (as in, most pleasant and somehow profound) interaction with Peter, and the coincidental – or, more accurately, providential – lessons I learned from it.

Having resigned myself to share a tent with Peter and another girl, Rachel, who was really quite cheerful and fun, for the third week of our trip, I did not expect to do much other than crawl into my sleeping bag and attempt to block out the light and society of the petite interior of our GoLite tent each night. Thanks to Rachel’s bubbly and inquisitive nature, however, I found our odd tent trio involved in conversations a few nights in a row about favorite movies as children, as teens, etc.. One night, questions of the universe were breached, such as: If the universe and space is expanding, what is it expanding into? What is beyond space? Are there possibly other life forms in the universe? Where did the material of our universe come from before the Big Bang? To my surprise, the very self-love-driven and natural-world-focused Peter, of whose beliefs I was completely unsure, heartily agreed with me when I quipped that it required more faith to believe in science apart from God than science under God, when considering the existence of material before the Big Bang that created our solar system and the universe (Divine Love and Wisdom 52). This sentiment was later agreed upon by another male teen expedition member the next morning when, iterating our discussion of space to our cook groups, he chimed in “I heard what you said last night, Lauren,” (the tent walls were quite thin) “That really makes a lot of sense – it would take a lot more faith to believe that material in the universe came from nothing.” I balked. I had said something that actually resonated in the minds of these young men? And something about God, no less.

The next night, questions of humanity were breached. Peter mused that humans were the only animal species that could actually speak and communicate. Rachel countered that animals must be able to talk with each other too, otherwise how else did they interact and travel in groups and protect each other? I, having not read beyond Part II of Divine Love and Wisdom on the plane ride to Alaska, pointed out to Peter and Rachel that there was a difference between speech and communication, and drew upon an example we had recently seen in Alaska to demonstrate the concept. A few days previously, during the sea-kayaking section, we had been stuck on shore for an entire day because the weather and sea state were too rough to paddle to our next beach campsite destination. In the evening of that wet and blustery day spent huddled in our tents or kitchen tarps, we noticed a humpback whale and her calf in the water at the entrance of our bay encampment. The calf kept jumping and breaching, apparently appreciating the huge swells a lot more than we in our double kayaks would have, and it provided quite a show for us hunkered down on the beach. Every few minutes, we onlookers would hear a smack, which did not seem to be produced from the humpback calf re-entering the water, and our Alaskan instructor informed us that that was the mother slapping her fin on the water to communicate with her charge. That, I explained to Rachel and Peter in our tent, was an example of communication between animals. The fin slaps on the surface of the water were needed because the whales could not sit around and talk as we did with articulated sounds that formed words that registered in the logical, rational parts of our minds, which is speech.

Having agreed upon the semantics of communication versus actual speech, Peter expressed even more amazement that humans have the ability to think beyond the level of instinct and that, even though we are no more than animals in our natural form, we are much different because of our brain power and ability. Agreeing, I mused aloud that when the Bible says that man is created in God’s image, it didn’t necessarily mean or exclusively mean God’s physical image. It could also mean our minds and enhanced ability above that of animals and other creations were also designed in the image of God’s. While our bodies are just a part of the rest of the universe – being formed (physically only, please do not read “created”) within another being by the ingestion of nutrients and the growth of cells, and returned to the ground as a lifeless mass of cells or ashes at the end of our life to contribute to the growth of more nutrients – our spirits (or souls) are elevated to be more than purely physical beings.

Now, fast forward to the San Francisco airport on my way home from Anchorage. I open Divine Love and Wisdom and start reading Part III. I’m sure this essay has proven a wonderful example of dramatic irony for those of you reading it whom are already familiar with Divine Love and Wisdom, but imagine my surprise when I start reading such sections as:

Divine Love and Wisdom 240: A person has in him two faculties [rationality and freedom] from the Lord which distinguish him from animals.

Divine Love and Wisdom 247: It is owing to that faculty called rationality that a person not only can think, but can in accord with his thought also speak, unlike animals.

Divine Love and Wisdom 251: A person is not human because of his appearance and anatomy but because of his intellect and will.

Divine Love and Wisdom 255: Animals, on the other hand, do not have two higher degrees, but only natural degrees, and without the higher degrees these natural degrees lack the capacity for thinking about any civil, moral or spiritual concern… So, too, because they cannot think analytically and view a lower thought from the perspective of some higher one, therefore they cannot speak, but make sounds in accordance with the knowledge connected with their love.

Divine Love and Wisdom 257:5: It is owing to its [a person’s natural mind] spiritual substances that thought occurs, and not because of the natural substances.

Wow. God has a sense of humor. He had given me all the tools I needed to connect with a person I found impossible to understand: a field guide (The Word), a family that raised me as a Christian, a fiancé who introduced me to the New Church, a future father-in-law who gave me a copy of Divine Love and Wisdom, and a nice long plane ride to start reading. Then, He let me experience the lessons and teach the lessons before I had even read them. Many teachers will tell you that there’s no better way to cement an idea in a student’s mind than by experiential learning and to ensure that they understand the concept than by having them iterate it to others. Umm… yeah. The Lord is a fantastic teacher. So, of the many things I learned in Alaska, perhaps the most significant was not to be disappointed by unfulfilled expectations but to view every day, every challenge, lo! even every foul- mouthed teenager, as a chance to better understand my own spirituality. Reading the Word and the Writings are inestimably beneficial, but don’t forget that life itself is full of the Lord’s divine love and wisdom!

Lauren Anderson

Lauren currently lives in Seattle, WA where she is attending the University of Washington to pursue a PhD program in geochemistry and astrobiology. She received her BS (2009) and MS (2010) degrees in geology from Lehigh University (Bethlehem, PA). One of her passions is travel, especially having just finished a month of backpacking in Alaska and a cross-country trip with her younger brother, and she hopes to visit Australia and South Africa soon. Lauren dislikes Sunday morning traffic, the rubbing sound of nylon winter gloves, and slideshows made with red text on a blue background. Lauren enjoys early morning views of Mt. Rainier, wearing large jewelry, and making lists.

Reader Comments (3)

I especially liked your ideas about the Lord as our teacher in the summery paragraph. As a mom I spend a lot of time wondering how the best way to teach my young son is...often the conflict is how much freedom to learn on his own to leave him in vs. organizing information, lessons, and agendas and intructing him. I think both organized and unorganized education is usedul for children in different forms, but as adults, I love how the Lord provides all the materials we need to learn and grow, but then is hands off, and totally leaves us infreedom to choose our own path. It is amazing how much He lets us go at our own pace and make tons of mistakes, and gently guiding us all the time. If only my parenting could emulate his teaching a little more! But is seems to me that experiential learning led by our loves is the education that really sticks with us and becomes a part of who we are.

November 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJanine

Thanks a lot for sharing your spiritual and natural adventure, and the "serendipity" of the Lord's providence! Another fascinating passage about the question of human as distinct from animal is CL 132-136. The most ancient people spoke with the Lord face to face, and so they did not call themselves "men" or 'human beings," but only the Lord Himself, together with those things in themselves, especially every good love and every true insight, that they perceived had come to them from Him (see AC 49). I hope to cultivate a little more of this attitude.

November 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLawson


Truly delightful! I have been praying for the Lord's Holy Spirit to dwell in me as a servant devoted to Him only and His Word. He is showing me, even in your fresh and true story, that if I choose a context of life in which I open myself to His life in the moment, He will surely be there.

I was just reintroduced to the simple necessity of God's existence, the wonder of the human creature, the subtle and profound awakening within the obtuse facade of adolecent youth, the joy of a young woman's life. Thank you.

November 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIsaac Synnestvedt
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