The path toward right
It’s so hard to stay on track. What with everything pulling us this way and that. Attractive things. Tempting things. Necessary things. They all tug at our sleeves insisting we pay attention. Perhaps this is something of the sense Jesus had in the crowd when the woman who had suffered hemorrhages for years touched the hem of his clothes and was immediately healed. It stopped him into asking “Who touched me?” because he felt the power that had gone out of him.
I wonder about the power going out of me by all this tugging and touching and tempting. Is it dribbling and leaking? Or is it the power of healing to those whom I pass? Am I so determined to stay the course, persist in my doing, struggle through any obstacle, that I apply all of my power to my own path? Because that, I fear, is what happens when I fix my eyes on an objective and insist on getting there in my own strength.
“He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake…” Psalm 23 says. Not, he jumps me straight to the end because I am special or because I have been well-behaved or even because he chooses to. He guides me on the path toward right. The ‘not right’ in me gets me off track. People call this ‘not-rightness’ sin. The Bible calls this not-rightness sin. And we suppose it stands on the path between us and Goodness. It separates us from God, we say, and that seems so.
But what separates may not be something that stands between. It may very well be something that stands behind and calls, or stands next to and tugs, or passes near and tempts. All it takes to draw me off course is a slight misalignment. So, I must attend to my guide, moment by moment.
How many paths of righteousness are there? I don’t know. But they all lead to the foot of the cross. And from each of our vantage points that direction will look a bit different. Almost as if we each stood and looked at the shadow cast by the sun’s beams spilled on the cross itself. The way would look straight from where we are. How simple! But as we walk, the sun rises and the sun sets and the path ebbs ever so slightly. Following it requires constant attention, supreme diligence and everlasting patience when clouds descend. All character traits I expect God intends to sow in me, not to battle death or defeat sin; He has taken care of that. No, I expect they are the power of God to heal. Heal me and heal others.
So we can journey onward toward the foot of the cross, the gateway to the Father Himself. Same gate. Same Way. Infinite number of paths.
Funny, during Lent the path has a different feel under my feet – a sodden, squishy, slosh. And there is a beautiful reflective quality to it, a sort of darkened, deepened, glow. Almost as if the shadow is cast on a lake and I am, we are, walking on water. The cross is planted on firm ground right at water’s edge. Set there to welcome travelers who are damp from effort. “Come on in and dry off,” it seems to say.
Hey, if we are baptized into new life, surely we can be dried off into Kingdom living.
How do we know when it’s safe to cross?
I was driving in DC this week. I don’t recommend it. Big cities and cars don’t mix well; take the mass transport. Anyway, I was amused at the looks on the faces of pedestrians as I approached the intersections. They stared at me with their feet firmly planted on the sidewalk several feet from the asphalt. Safe. Secure. Waiting for the light to turn. Even then the wise pedestrian checks both ways and says a prayer. You never know what might happen when you venture into the intersection. It’s every man for himself out there. Cross at your own risk.
That is, unless you’re in Charlottesville. In UVA-land, college town USA, you don’t catch the eye of the oncoming driver to see if it’s safe to cross. You don’t even bother looking right or left, you don’t even pause before stepping out into the intersection. You just step. Because the drivers in Charlottesville stop for pedestrians waiting to cross. It’s just what they do. Everyone knows it…except for out-of-towners.
Now I, having learned to drive in DC and the surrounding suburbs, admit that there was a significant squealing of wheels and screeching of tires, not to mention angry glower from the pedestrian, the first time I failed to notice his intention to cross and then step out RIGHT IN FRONT of my car.
Isn’t it odd? I was always taught to yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk. But I was also taught to look both ways. Because intersections are dangerous places. There is nothing preventing injury once I step out into traffic. My safety is not assured, neither by law nor by practice. I must decide when it seems safe to cross and then trust that the driver sees me, sees the red light or decides to yield to me. It may be a life or death decision.
In DC, they don’t risk it.
In Charlottesville, they presume it.
In life, we do it all day long. Come to a hundred intersections and weigh the odds that we can get across safely. Some of us are cautious, waiting for the green and several others to begin to cross before we venture forth. Some of us are bold, crossing even before the light changes, hurrying to what won’t wait on the other side. Some of us, perhaps most of us, look both ways and wait for the signal it’s safe to cross.
Dear Ian, you saw the safe sign yesterday at 2:38pm. You crossed from this side to the other. I expect you didn’t walk but rather danced and sang all the way into the Loving arms that received you. Had I better hearing I am sure I would have heard the heavenly accompaniment.
No more pain. No more suffering. No more intersections. Just Peace.
The Final Common Pathway
“The final common pathway” – those words literally popped into my head yesterday. Christ is the “final common pathway.” I drew myself some pictures – visual artist I’m not but lines I can do – of one common path into which poured all the other paths. The common path was thick and straight and true. And it ended in God, the Father.
Now I struggle daily with all the fisticuffs and wrangling that goes on among the various faith practices. The quarreling and the posturing and the comparisons and the proof texts. I know what I believe but I am aware that saying, “Christ as the only way” may step on some toes. And, above all else, I don’t want to make another person stumble in their journey of faith.
That’s when the “final common pathway” hit me. It’s funny because these words are not faith words, but science words. I recognized them from the years I taught anatomy and physiology. The final common pathway referred to the alpha motor neuron, the final neuron that received all the input from the brain and the lower nervous system. It was the collecting point and summation point of all the electrical input. If the incoming signal was strong enough (above threshold), the motor neuron would fire and the muscle unit would be activated. If it was “below threshold,” the motor neuron would not fire and the muscle would stay at rest. It was a collecting point that became an all or none phenomenon.
The motor neuron was the final common pathway for the body’s discernment.
What strikes me today is not the “neatness” of this message but the language. That God, knowing my mental meanderings, would pluck from days past a concept He could use to address a difficult issue for me. Imagine, He knows all that I know and all that I think and all I understand and he plucks from this the illustration He wishes to use to speak to me today.
What if I trusted that any question I have He will answer using insight He already has placed within me? That he anticipated even my doubt and fear and reluctance.
A God like that is the kind of God who paves a final common pathway, even Christ, knowing we will choose many paths in our journeying.
Oh, just imagine. On that day, we will walk in a broad and flat place. It will be smooth and unhurried. No one will jostle for position. No one will run ahead. Once we step over the threshold our activation is secured, our destination assured.
Will it be silent? Will there be chattering? Will we hear music? Singing? What will we see? smell? Perhaps there will be nourishment? Springs? What will we feel? Will there be hugging and holding of hands? Or a sensation of being held or drawn forward?
I am imagining it will be a whole body experience and a whole out of body experience. I can’t even imagine what my heart will do with it all. But I know where it will rest.
Today, that seems a good path, a right path. A path toward which I can invite everyone, not offending anyone. I’ve been looking for a path like that.