Hiking with Ghosts

I like to hike.

Honestly, the physical activity and the beauty of nature are enough. I would enjoy hiking for these elements alone. But to me, hiking provides so much more than lungs laboring to process fresh air. When I go out to the wilderness, it’s often to go hiking with ghosts.

The main ghost with whom I go hiking is the Holy Ghost. Perhaps “getting some extended time with God” is a less provocative way to say it. But seriously: most of my hiking happens when I purposefully set aside time for practicing spiritual disciplines like prayer, meditation, Bible study, silence, and solitude. These Hikes with the Holy Ghost, or Walks in the Woods, are a weekly discipline for me, usually on Friday mornings.

I feel the fullness of the Holy Spirit out on the trails, away from my desk or the campus where so much of my ministry takes place. The awe and serenity of Creation helps me to connect to the Creator Himself. The separation from normal, everyday stuff provides an invaluable perspective which is enhanced by natural beauty: God’s enormity, power, and timelessness juxtaposed against my human limitations. It’s reassuring to be reminded of Who God is — and who God says I am.

The Holy Ghost is a great hiking companion. In addition, I also carry with me relics of other ghosts that connect me to past people and experiences, where God demonstrated His care and concern for me.

When I hike, I wear a Colorado Rockies baseball cap that reminds me of summers at Estes Park Leadership Training: an exceptionally-beautiful ministry environment in an exceptionally-beautiful part of the world (the Rocky Mountain National Park). I remember feeling especially close to God in the summer of 2016, when our family spent the summer there, and I guess you could say that I still feel happily “haunted” by those experiences. The ball cap is a tangible connection to all those memories.

If the temperatures are below freezing, I will typically hike in an old set of coveralls that I inherited from my grandfather, Ezra Liechty. He lived almost all of his life on the plains of North Dakota, where conditions can be rather inhospitable. He toughed out the conditions, however, and built a business that still survives today, even though he died four years ago. The coveralls were made by a company called Key, and the particular model of coveralls I wear is the Imperial: “The Aristocrat of Outerwear.” And in a way, the coveralls are the perfect metaphor for my Grandpa Liechty: rugged, tough, insulating, and affording access and advantages in life that not everyone gets to experience.

Underneath the coveralls — or just under a regular jacket, if the temperature is a bit warmer, or as the only outer garment if the temperature is a lot warmer — I typically hike in a hooded, zip-up sweatshirt. It’s a convenient garment for hiking because it can be made quite warm (if zipped all the way up, with the hood pulled tight around my face) or relatively cool (if unzipped, hood off). But the three hooded, zip-up sweatshirts I have are all special because of the people who gave them to me. One was given to me by my mother-in-law, Louise. One was given to me by my best friend, Jason. And one was given to me by my wife, Marci. All three of these people represent key relationships in my life.

I hope I can continue my habit of hiking with ghosts for many years to come. This year, I’m taking aim at the 253 miles in the northeast Ohio loop of the Buckeye Trail. But wherever I go, for however long I’m able to keep going, I’m glad to walk with God.

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