A Bright Sadness: Walking His Paths



All the paths of the Lord are loving and faithful
Psalm 25:10 


“All does not mean ‘all – except the paths I am walking in now,’
or ‘nearly all – except this especially difficult and painful path.’
All must mean all.


So, your path with its unexplained sorrow or turmoil,
and mine with its sharp flints and briers –
and both our paths,
with their unexplained perplexity,
their sheer mystery – they are His paths,
on which he will show Himself loving and faithful.


Nothing else; nothing less.
~Amy Carmichael–Anglican missionary to India 1867-1951

Sometimes we come upon forks in the road where we may not be certain which path to take. Perhaps explore the Robert Frost “less traveled” one? Or take the one that seems less tangled and uncertain from all appearances?

Sometimes we have chosen a particular path which looked inviting at the time, trundling along minding our own business, yet we start bonking our heads on low hanging branches, or get grabbed by stickers and thorns that rip our clothes and skin, or trip over prominent roots and rocks that impede our progress and bruise our feet.

Sometimes we come to a sudden end in a path and face a steep cliff with no choice but to leap or turn back through the mess we have just slogged through.

Navigating the road to the cross must have felt like ending up at that steep cliff. There was no turning back, no choosing or negotiating a different pathway or taking time to build a staircase into the rocks. His words reflect His uncertainty and terror. His words reflect our deepest doubts and fears–how are we to trust we are on the right path?

When we take that next step, no matter which way, we end up in the Father’s loving and faithful arms. He has promised this.

Nothing else; nothing less.



The Path of Pathlessness

Wind finds the northwest gap, fall comes.
Today, under gray cloud-scud and over gray
Wind-flicker of forest, in perfect formation, wild geese
Head for a land of warm water, the boom, the lead pellet.

Some crumple in air, fall. Some stagger, recover control,
Then take the last glide for a far glint of water. None
Knows what has happened. Now, today, watching
How tirelessly V upon V arrows the season’s logic.

Do I know my own story? At least, they know
When the hour comes for the great wind-beat. Sky-strider,
Star-strider–they rise, and the imperial utterance,
Which cries out for distance, quivers in the wheeling sky.

That much they know, and in their nature know
The path of pathlessness, with all the joy
Of destiny fulfilling its own name.
I have known time and distance, but not why I am here.

Path of logic, path of folly, all
The same–and I stand, my face lifted now skyward,
Hearing the high beat, my arms outstretched in the tingling
Process of transformation, and soon tough legs,

With folded feet, trail in the sounding vacuum of passage,
And my heart is impacted with a fierce impulse
To unwordable utterance–
Toward sunset, at a great height.
~Robert Penn Warren from “The Collected Poems”

I wish I could be as sure
as the geese and swans
flying overhead in unwordable utterance~
they trust where they are led
is where they belong.

They may not make it there
but nevertheless they go when called.

I wish I might fly into the setting sun
on such a path of pathlessness
knowing only
I am sent
because the call is stronger
than I am.


A Path of Moonlight

On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.
~John O’Donohue from “Beannacht”

photo by Josh Scholten

I figure I was born unbalanced in one way or another.  I was the kid who couldn’t manage roller skating out of fear of falling, clinging to the rail rather than risk being ground-bound yet again.  My one and only cross country skiing experience was actually cross-country sitting more than gliding.  I still freeze in place when trying to walk over an icy surface or down a steep incline — my brain just can’t help my body navigate anything other than a straight flat pathway.

It isn’t just physical balance that is a challenge for me.  As a child, and still at times in my later years, my feelings can be intense and immobilizing too,  every disappointment becoming tragedy and every happy moment so joyous I cling to it fiercely, fearing it could fade.

A blessing of balance is ideal: ground that dances to steady me when I stumble, a palette of rainbow colors to overwhelm gray emotions when I’m struggling,  a lighted pathway if the going gets dark.  

I’ve given up the idea of skating or skiing, but just maybe I can ride and glide through the waves of life without getting seasick.


To Find My Way

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darkhedgesantique

 

into the coppery halls
of beech and intricate oak
to be close to the trees
as they whisper together
let fall their leaves,
and we die for the winter 
~Katherine Towers “Whim Wood” from The Remedies

 

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eveninglane

 

 

Lord: it’s time. The summer was magnificent. 
Lay your shadows upon the sun-dials 
and o’er the isles allow your winds to vent.

Command the final fruits to be full and fine; 
give them two more days in the southern sun, 
push them to completion and then run 
the last sweetness through the heavy wine.

He who now has no house, will build one never. 
He who is alone, will long so remain, 
will awaken, read, lengthy letters pen 
and in the lanes will forever 
restlessly wander, when the leaves are driven.
~Rainer Maria Rilke “Autumn Day”

 

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I’m drawn to pathways that lead to an unseen destination ahead.

Perhaps the endpoint is out of sight round a curve, or over a rise, or it is too far distant for my eyes to find.

I’m called to journey forth, even when staying put seems easier.  There is a restlessness to these days, to these wanderings, as I keep looking behind to see where I’ve been.

Lord, help me find my way.  Lord, it is time I find my way.

 

darkhedges2antique

 

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Turn Aside and Look: That Steep Dark Path

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thorns
photo by Josh Scholten

 

The reason Lent is so long is that this path to the truth of oneself is long and snagged with thorns, and at the very end one stands alone before the broken body crowned with thorns upon the cross. All alone – with not one illusion or self-delusion to prop one up.

Yet not alone, for the Spirit of Holiness, who is also the Spirit of Helpfulness, is beside you and me. Indeed, this Spirit has helped to maneuver you and me down that dark, steep path to this crucial spot.
~Edna Hong from Bread and Wine

 

beechtrail

Christ … is a thorn in the brain.
Christ is God crying I am here,
and here not only in what exalts and completes and uplifts you,
but here in what appalls, offends, and degrades you,
here in what activates and exacerbates all that you would call not-God.
To walk through the fog of God
toward the clarity of Christ is difficult
because of how unlovely,
how ungodly that clarity often turns out to be.
~Christian Wiman from Image Journal “Varieties of Quiet”

pathwaylight2

To Wander Slowly

darkhedgesantique
photo by Emily Gibson (Dark Hedges, Ireland)

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photo by Joel DeWaard (Whatcom County, Washington)

 

For how many years did I wander slowly
through the forest. What wonder and
glory I would have missed had I ever been
in a hurry!
~Mary Oliver from “Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way” from Felicity

 

beechtrail
photo by Emily Gibson (Mt. Stewart Gardens, Ireland)

newhampshirefall1
photo by Ben Gibson (New Hampshire)

God is at home, it’s we who have gone out for a walk.
~Meister Eckhart

rhodiecontrast
photo by Emily Gibson (Ireland)

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photo by Emily Gibson (Scotland)

Sometimes going for a walk is too much like a sprint, as far and as fast as possible.
Sometimes it is a spontaneous trek into the unknown, just to prove it can be done.
Sometimes it is a climb into the dark, with precipices and crumbling ledges under our feet.
Sometimes it is simply a journey of curiosity to see what may be around the corner.

No matter why or where or how far we wander,
or how slowly,
the path home shines just bright enough
to show us the way back to His glory
when we are ready.
He is there, waiting.
He keeps the light on for us.

pathwaylight2
photo by Emily Gibson (Vancouver Island)

The Path Taken

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paths

Twice each day I walk the same downhill path to the barn for chores.  Sometimes I’m half asleep, sometimes weary from working a long day at the clinic, most often in the dark,  sometimes sliding on icy snow, sometimes slipping in mud from unending rain, sometimes wading through a sea of overgrown grass.   The constant in this twice daily journey is the path itself and where it always takes me– no matter what time of year, the state of the weather, or how temporarily difficult to discern. My feet have learned the way by feel as much as by sight–the twist here, the dip there, the curve around the septic tank lid, the aromatic stretch through the stand of wild mint, all while trying to avoid stepping on the playful farm dogs or the swerving barn cat perpetually underfoot.

I prefer to take the demarcated path to the barn as it keeps me focused on the task ahead of me.  If I happen to deviate, I will surely find weeds to pull, a woodpecker to admire, a cluster of cherries to eat, or a sweet pea blossom to smell.  The distraction may bring me momentary pleasure but so much work remains yet to be done. I must find my way back to the path and stick to it.

As a teenager, I was a trailblazer, bushwhacking my way through brambles to see what might be on the other side, or to discover a new favorite place in the woods, or simply to prove I was stronger than the brush that yielded to me.  In my middle age, I tend to stick to the familiar.   I like knowing where my feet will land, what work my hands will touch, and where my head will rest.  The adventure of the unknown, so attractive in my youth that it took me to remote Tanzania, is less appealing now.  The visible path, even when difficult to follow due to cover of snow, sea of mud, or abundance of overgrowth, is reassurance that I have a purpose and a destination.   I can see where I am going and I know where I’ve been.

We tread many paths during our time on this soil–some routine and mundane, leading to the barns and chores in our life, and others a matter of faith, trust, heart and spirit.  As tempting as it is to deviate, the path is there for good reason.  It doesn’t have to be a super highway, or lined with gold or even paved with good intentions. It is rarely straight. But it must be true, steadfastly leading us to where we are called and back again to where we belong.

It’s time to pull on my boots.

mowedyard

canadabarnpath