My daughter and I are going up into the high country, but we’ll be taking the road less traveled.
Instead of parking at a trailhead and following a line on a map, we’ll be walking up, behind the chalet we purchased nearly one year ago with a vision of offering hospitality, space to hear God’s voice, and a sharing of life in a mountain setting with guests. This way of getting to our destination offers no line on a map – just word of mouth, unused and overgrown roads and subtle paths which, if you’re not paying attention, will be missed as we walk quickly past, lost in conversation or dreaming as we look at the sky.
We connect with our neighbor, a retired forest ranger with a perpetual smile. He’s like a grandpa to our neighbor’s kids, pulling them on a trailer behind his small tractor for hay rides, and is the keeper of local lore – where the best fishing is, or the best builder, or where to find old military hardware buried deep in the woods. I love listening to him talk, and know that he knows the secret way, the way that will shave miles off our hike, the path less taken.
Holly and I walk over to his house, our Greentrails map in hand, and with a wide grin he says, “You’ll love it up there! First you cross the bridge over the creek to X’s house and then look for the little footbridge up towards Y’s house (two friends who live deep in the woods, off the grid). Then you just stay on the path. It’ll get overgrown at times so you need to pay attention but if you do, you can’t miss it.”
PAY ATTENTION – “This” I tell myself, “is about more than hiking.” The paths that lead to life aren’t obvious at all these days. You don’t balance budgets by cutting taxes or by increasing entitlements, as our two American parties would like us to believe. Yet there are the masses, cheering for both sides, staking their hopes on a party keeping or losing power, as if such shifts are a real path to fresh air. In another example, sex divorced from public covenant commitment creates mountains of heartache and woundedness, creating a generation of guarded cynics for whom intimacy proves to be both elusive and terrifying. Equally, fear of sex, and the scorching judgements that stem from those filled with such fears, are creating a false and ugly piety. Yet these are also well trodden paths. Consumerism promises shopping and staying trendy as the path to life. Socialism. Materialism. Fundamentalism. Emergentism. Fanaticism – all paths; all words; all leading us deeper into the forest, where it’s darker and scarier, rather than higher up. The path that leads to hope, joy, hospitality, forgiveness, justice, and the capacity to embody all these even in the direst of times isn’t stumbled upon. It must be sought, and we need to look diligently.
We head down the path. The house of E? Check. The footbridge? Check. The path? Yes! With diligence and and attention we manage to stay on it all the way to the next important turn, but diligence and attention are required, and I think of Jeremiah who said, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” which is a way of saying finding the path that leads to life requires paying attention. I think of how sometimes my appetites look like the path, or my political leanings, or the little truisms that hang on motivational posters, even my favorite doctrines. All these things promise more than they deliver. I’d bloody well better pay diligent attention to the one true path, which is Christ Himself, seeking him, walking with him, listening for his voice in the word, and the world, and the wind. I need the path. Ironically, if I stay on the path, I’ll find that it’s the best way to get to the high country of hope and joy – it’s just not well trodden.
“At the end of the path you’ll come out on an old overgrown forest service road” Pat says, pointing to a dotted line that is on the map. “You’ll feel like you want to go left. GO RIGHT! It’s counter intuitive but the way that feels right is a dead end.”
Sure enough, we arrive at the old road with snowbrush and berries choking what was once a logging road. Yes. I want to go left. No, instead I go right, as told, ignoring my instincts because my friend and the map have both said that the other way is a dead end. We wander through increasing undergrowth, pushing our way through vine maples taller than us, having lost all reference points in the moment, other than faith in my neighbor and the map. Then we break through, out onto the clear, heavily travelled road that will take us most of the way there.
IT’S COUNTER INTUITIVE! Indeed – the gospel is counter intuitive. You save your life by losing it. You become first by choosing to sit in the back. You gain greatness by becoming a servant. The path reminds me that everyday I make choices to save my life, to be first, to push my way to the front, to close my fist and refuse to share my heart, or my time, or my money, or my vulnerability. I trust my instincts and miss the gospel. The path reminds that I’ll only find real life by paying attention to the voice of the Holy Spirit and listening to the Word, which is no easy thing (as I’ll write about another time). This kind of paying attention requires continually reminding ourselves that find the way doesn’t happen by following our instincts, but by pausing and making sure that wiser authorities than my gut are informing my choices.
We find one more important junction, leaving the main road to hike through a freshly planted forest of fir trees. Again, this path would be invisible unless you a) believed it existed in the first place and b) were intently looking for it. You don’t stumble upon it by accident.
We arrive at the lake and my mind and heart are full of lessons. Yes, God’s seeking us. Sometimes God’s shouting, through the blessings of beauty, friendship and intimacy, through the suffering and inhumanity all around us that causes us to mourn and long for more. But (and this is the biggest point of all), even the shouting won’t be perceived unless we take a moment to quiet our hearts.
We settle by the lake and through the course of the afternoon watch as the waters are pummeled by raindrops, and then caressed by wind. You don’t see much when the tiny lake’s filled with other effects. When the sun dips low in the sky though, the wind stops, and when that happens, I can see everything -
EVERY-THING, just by looking at the lake. And I think of that place in the Bible that reminds me; God’s character is seen, known, and reflected through us best when we relentlessly pursue the disciplines of silence and solitude on a regular basis. This is because our minds are unable to receive the naked beauty and holiness of God when the surface is troubled by, as Jesus said, many things. There’s a time to turn off the damn phone, and unplug the e-mail, and breathe in rhythmically as we recite, “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want” or whatever piece of timeless truth God lays on our hearts, repeating it until we begin to believe it.
So we retrace our steps, having enjoyed, having sipped wine under the stars, having been reminded once again that the best places, and the best paths, are narrow and hard to find, but joyous and lifegiving nonetheless.
I’m restoring moments of silence because of this trip, and the paths less trodden, always there, but never obvious, are becoming clearer. Thanks be to God. Full set of photos from this trip here
GOOD NEWS: My first book o2: Breathing New Life into Faith will once again be available for purchase, either as a hard copy, or for through kindle, very soon! Details forthcoming.