The outdoor recreation business is booming. With a growth rate faster than the growth of the US economy, the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that the outdoor recreation industry was worth $374.7 billion in 2016 alone. Our experiences of awe and wonder from our adventures outside are the life blood of marketing teams for retailers and outdoor destinations. They love the word “adventure” and try very hard to let you know that if you’ve paid for the right clothing and equipment, you can travel into the great outdoors and have your own epic adventure that will leave you wonderstruck.
Essentially, adventure is now a consumable product—another piece of gear.
We do more than just buy the supposedly necessary gear to get outside; the outdoors themselves are reduced to an object to induce wonder, purchased alongside whatever gear we find essential for our trip. Those things that do not invoke the wonderstruck experience are discarded, interpreted as part of the banal life we seek to escape through adventuring to the outdoors. The great outdoors become an “other,” something so different from ourselves that it becomes a tool for escapism. And all that is ordinary is rendered meaningless.
I am a cyclist and a backpacker and I have certainly purchased all the required gear to get outside. Exploring wild or uninhabited spaces is one of my favorite things. It was only recently that I realized my habits of adventuring were reductionistic. My adventures were really about escaping the ordinary and boring. So, how else can we interpret adventure?
We Are Ordinary and Simple
It is important to note that Christianity has always been careful to affirm that humans are part of the natural world, even if we are distinct within it. We are such a part of the rest of creation that we are constituted by it. That is to say, our identities are formed through experiencing the simple and the ordinary of every day life. And it is through the simple and ordinary that humanity creates structures, art, and music, and crafts poetry and stories. The beautiful creative acts by humans are always through the ordinary things. This is essential to understand: we are formed more by the ordinary than by our epic adventures.
Perhaps no one understood this point more than JRR Tolkien. He says in a published letter:
There are of course certain things and themes that move me specially. The inter-relations between the ‘noble’ and the ‘simple’ (or common, vulgar) for instance. The ennoblement of the ignoble I find specially moving. I am (obviously) much in love with plants and above all trees, and always have been; and I find human maltreatment of them as hard to bear as some find ill-treatment of animals.
Tolkien’s love for things that grow is rooted in the nobility inscribed into them by their creator. The ordinary and the simple are of worth for Tolkien not because they have a use, but because their goodness is inherent. The goodness of the ordinary and the simple totally reframes our sense of adventure in incredibly practical ways.
Adventure in the Ordinary
In my own experience, I am learning to love the act of feasting. Learning to cook and prepare meals for friends and family is a deeply spiritual task. Food and drink become conduits for conversation, community, and thanksgiving; feasting with loved ones orients us toward praise and the recognition that all goodness is a gift from God. What is more, being mindful of our food’s journey helps us see the goodness in the ordinary. For myself especially, this has compelled me to support the smaller, local farmers and ranchers who have a less technological way of cultivating their crops and raising and butchering their animals. But the path from farm and ranch to kitchen table is often an arduous one and being aware and thankful for the forces and hands that raise, cultivate, yield, and prepare our food allows us to see how glorious it truly is. Awareness of the goodness of a simple thing like food and relationships help us to reconsider how we might experience our more epic and wild adventures.
Mountaineering, rock climbing, or mountain biking become something other than escaping. It’s not about experiencing the extra-ordinary; rather, these activities become extensions of a posture towards the world that helps us already be aware of the intrinsic goodness of existence. Good food, potted plants, the trees in the neighborhood park, and an immense chain of mountains are all equally declared good by God, and equally communicate his glory.