On Friday I went to the woods to walk and pray. I was a little nervous. First, anytime you seek to engage with the God who created the universe there is a bit of fear and trembling to be had. Secondly, my navigational skills have been sliding in recent years. There have been many wrong turns, dead-ends and a lot of “where are we now” situations out in the middle of the wilderness with poor cell phone coverage. So as I considered rambling through Umstead alone, I was hesitant. Hesitancy turned into a full-on “this is not a good idea” when I realized the trail map I keep in the car was no longer there, but I was already in the parking lot at the trailhead. I tentatively clipped on my super fashionable fanny pack and ventured forth.
In hiking, there are blazes that mark the way – little colored symbols tacked on trees and rocks and posts. The Appalachian Trail has 165,000 white rectangles to mark the path between Georgia and Maine. Hikers are taught to look for the blazes. If your guide book or trail map conflicts with the path the blazes are indicating, follow the blazes. If you get lost, turn around, go back to the last blaze you saw and begin again. Blazes are how you get through the forest and over mountains, across streams, and through meadows. In Umstead Park there are many trails, and each one has a different symbol and color combination. Sycamore Trail is a blue triangle.
As I walked along the trail, I thought about the spiritual journey (recently I wrote about how it is formation, deformation, and reformation). Deformation is that space where you are lost and nothing makes sense. It’s those times when everything falls apart and feels chaotic and unfamiliar. The 16th-century Spanish mystic and poet, St. John of the Cross, called it the dark night of the soul. By understanding the pattern of the spiritual journey, we know this time of deformation is not the end. The Psalmist reminds us that we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death”. Deformation is not the ending but is the path to reformation.
Moving along a trail I had never been on with no map all alone, I began searching for those blue triangles as I headed deeper into the woods. The more I looked for them, the easier it was to spot them. Giving direction when the trail forked and crossed with other paths. Offering a bit of comfort on the long straight stretches seemingly just to say “you’re still where you need to be”. Those little triangles guided me along through the entire journey. There were a few times I ventured off the path – to sit on a boulder as sunlight danced on the twisting and turning waters of a stream, as I stopped to listen to the cacophony of falling leaves signaling that change was in the air, to catch my breath and calm my nerves after almost stepping on a snake. When I was ready to move forward, the blazes were there to welcome me back to the path and guide me ever onward.
This was my Friday Sabbath take away: if you look for the blazes, you will find them. They are always there; you just have to notice. God’s presence is a lot like those blazes. We can run along with our daily lives and just not notice. We can hustle through our days trusting our own understanding and power and ignore the grace that lies unnoticed. God’s presence is always there; you just have to notice. Sometimes the gift of being in a dark, unfamiliar, chaotic time in our lives is that we start looking for God and relying on God. Where are the blazes in your life right now? As you are juggling 2 kids in virtual learning this week, where is your blue triangle reminding you that you are not alone, you are not lost, that God is present? As you try to understand how to care for your aging parents in the midst of a pandemic, where are the blue triangles? As you sit by the phone waiting for the doctor’s office to call, where is the next blue triangle leading you through the journey? As you consider the next week in the life of our state and nation, find the blue triangles. And whatever you do. . . don’t step on a snake!
Associate Minister of Faith Formation
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