Deuteronomy 5:28-33; Psalm 1; Proverbs 3:1-6
I was reflecting this week on what it means to say that there is a path for each of us individually, and a path for us as Christians. Several of the Biblically-based hymns today talk about a path: a path through the wilderness from exile to a new home; a path of righteousness; a path to the holy city and the place where we worship; a path on which we will find joy.
For some people, saying God has a path for us means that God has predetermined all that will happen in our lives. I find that a bit difficult to believe, myself, since there is so much in life that happens randomly. Did God decide that I would walk down this street and not that one? Did God decide I would find a parking space? Did God determine that my mother would have breast cancer and survive, or that my father would have cancer three times and not survive the third? I don’t think so.
Though the idea of a predetermined path brings comfort to some, I believe, as I said at Friday’s memorial, that there is more than one path that each of us can take in life. If there is some sort of path that we are all seeking, it is that “path of righteousness” that the Psalmist wrote about. Righteousness means both a moral life and a just life. Justice and righteousness are the same word in Biblical Greek. It’s the path where we step in Jesus’ footsteps, and live as he lived. None of us follows that path perfectly, and it may look a bit different for each of us. We wander off and get distracted or simply don’t have the ability to walk exactly as he did. But we know some things about that path.
We know it leads to true freedom. In another service we’ll look a bit more at the hope for freedom found in early 20th century spirituals. We know it might take us through some very difficult times – that is evident too, from Scripture. We know that path will not be without burden – after all, the last path Jesus walked in his life was to his own crucifixion. We know that there will be unexpected blessing – flowers in the desert, water to quench our thirst, strangers who will lend a hand. We know that we will walk that path with Jesus, though like the travellers on the road to Emmaus, we may not always recognize him. We know it is a path that leads us home, to the promise of abundant life in Christ.
I gathered together some short meditations on the path that many of us are following.
Whether you turn to the right or to the left,
Your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,
‘This is the way; walk in it.’ (Isaiah 30:21)
Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked,
in which you can walk with love and reverence.
– Henry David Thoreau
Ann Weems, Kneeling in Jerusalem, “The Walk”
…Give us the courage, O God,
To hear your word
And to read our living into it.
Give us the trust to know we’re forgiven,
And give us the faith
To take up our lives and walk.
From “Explorefaith.org”: How can I know what God wants me to do with my life?
A good, but tough question. The question seems to imply that there is only one path for one’s life, one road less traveled. Probably this question emerges out of wrestling with “vocational” issues. So, lets go at it this way. I have a hunch that we tend to confuse the “vocation” of one’ life with the “occupations” of one’s life. Vocation has to do with responding, as best we know how — some days pretty well and some days pretty poorly — to the prodding, urging, nudging, whispers which emerge from the Voice in the shrubs that burn in one’s life. “Occupations” are how one lives out the whispers of a Voice, the nudging of a shadow. It might be that it takes the form of plumber or priest, banker or environmentalist, caregiver or caretaker. The point is, it doesn’t matter which — it only matters how. As Robert Frost would say to college students: “It doesn’t matter what course you take. Simply hang around until you catch the Spirit, or the Spirit catches you.”
In terms of our everyday life, we frame our plans and decisions around the Great Commandment: to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbours as ourselves. That is the great path. We listen to the stirrings, prodding, urging that tells us whether the choices we make serve Love. Imagine one great wide path, with smaller paths crisscrossing and interweaving through the large one. That, perhaps, is the best image for me of what it means to follow the path of righteousness, the path of aliveness. There is not one way and one way only for you or for me, but the destination is the same: to be fully alive, to live an abundant and grace-filled life. For me, the promise of eternal life that is so central to some forms of Christianity is more of a bonus feature than the goal of it all. Notice that in the readings we have heard, the path leads to good in this life: justice, abundance, peace, comfort, wisdom.
The earliest name for the Christian life in the Acts of the Apostles was “The Way”. In Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost he quotes the Psalmist, referring to “The Way of Life”. It was understood that the great path is something to be walked here and now. It encompasses faith in Jesus as Messiah, and it also encompasses all that the Hebrew Scriptures speak of as “the way of life”, “the way of righteousness”, and “the way of peace”.
A Celtic prayer from David Adam (Tides and Seasons):
Lead me Lord
In the paths of peacefulness
In the roads of righteousness
In the ways of willingness.
Lead me Lord,
Down the tracks of thoughtfulness
In the streets of sensitiveness
By the journey of joyfulness.
What way could be more blessed than this?
Since we’re singing the faith of our ancestors today, I’d invite you to turn to # 221 in More Voices, and we’ll finish our reflection time by singing this prayer for the journey together a capella.
I am walking a path of peace;
I am walking a path of peace;
I am walking a path of peace.
Lead me home. Lead me home. Amen.