America’s National Park Service turned one hundred years old last month. To celebrate this, my wife and I spent a week’s vacation in Voyageurs National Park, a park that extends for fifty-five miles along the Minnesota-Ontario border. The park, officially established in 1975, is named after the French Canadian (voyageur is French for traveler) fur traders who traveled the waters within the park using large canoes in the late 18th and early 19 th centuries.They trapped and transported beaver pelts through the waters of what is now the park to supply the growing fur market in Europe.
Voyageurs is the only national park that is accessible solely by water, as there are no roads in the park. There are over thirty lakes, some as long as twenty miles in length and nine hundred islands. Visitors enter the park by boat and for the first time in our lives we were visitors, spending a week on a small rental house boat. During our week away we motored more than fifty miles, tying up at a different beach site each night. We took along two kayaks as well which allowed for lots of quiet exploration. Perhaps the best part of being in the park is that there are no cell towers within or near the park and so we were totally “off the grid” for seven days. We were both surprised at how deeply satisfying it was to not view one electronic screen for a full week. We found instead, that campfires, the Northern Lights, meteor showers, board games, and long, uninterrupted conversations were good for our souls in ways that we had almost forgotten.
Speaking of being good for the soul, that’s how I think of our Nation al Park Service, and indeed all protected wilderness areas in our states and in our country. There is a spiritual hunger within us that seems to be only satisfied when we spend time outdoors, a fact the people who fought hard to create our National Park System understood well. John Muir, an early conservationist who worked tirelessly to start the National Park Service, described Yosemite National Park in California as “a temple far finer than any made by human hands.” The transcendent and diverse beauty found in parks such as Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Great Smokies, Denali, Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Bryce, Zion, Everglades, and Voyageurs—just to name a few—profoundly connect us with the spiritual source of all creation. These sacred places transport us out of our everyday worlds to places that are eternal and timeless.
Spending a week in Voyageurs National Park reminded me also of the fact that all that is sacred is a gift from the Creator and needs to be cherished. We are not the creators of the sacred; our role is rather to steward and protect that which is sacred. My wife and I were able to enjoy one particular national park because others worked diligently to preserve and protect that wilderness area.
The need to protect that which is sacred in life goes beyond the need to protect and preserve natural wilderness sanctuaries. When we work to honor and preserve the sacred sanctuaries of our friendships and our families, we are creating places for ourselves and others to experience the transcendent and spiritual aspects of life as well. I’ll close with one other important insight we relearned on our recent vacation. The enjoyment of the sacred sanctuaries of nature and of relationships is greatly enhanced by getting away from our electronic screens and devices and rediscovering what it feels like to be wholly present to the spiritual reality that is around, between, and within us when we take the time to truly notice