“Let us not linger in contemplation of the road ahead; let us follow the narrow path. Let us not look too far or too high, but right in front of ourselves, right next to ourselves. The good to be done is perhaps there.” – Elisabeth Leseur
Every time I’ve read or thought about the “narrow path” (Mt 7:13-14), it’s seemed a little overwhelming. I imagine some very specific, very restrictive plan that God has set out for me, and that I must somehow figure out that plan or else risk getting thrown off the Providence bus, as it were.
While I read these word’s of Elisabeth Leseur’s, a different image formed in my mind. I remembered years ago when I went on a hiking holiday with my friends on the Isle of Skye, for which most of us were woefully unprepared. Each of us – two girls and three guys – schlepped 40 lb backpacks from dawn til dusk as we trekked from the north of the island to the south over five days. It was a route that even experienced hikers do not undertake lightly, and here we were with little-to-no hiking experience (except for one of the guys), setting out with everything we needed on our backs, stopping to sleep in tents wherever we happened to end up that day.
It was exhilarating, gruelling, rewarding, terrifying. One particular morning has become the stuff of lore for those of us on that trip, and it involved a narrow, wet, dangerous path.
We had spent the night camping by a beach, and had very restorative sleep. We woke up ready to tackle the next part of our hike, and referred to our little pamphlet that outlined the route. The first part of the day’s hike was a 3 mile walk along a small path built into the side of a cliff. The notes said that whilst the path was perfectly safe if trodden carefully in good weather conditions, it should not be undertaken in rain or if the path was wet.
Somehow, we (the girls) let ourselves get talked into taking it even though it was raining and foggy.
I remember that as we set off, we were all singing to try to keep up morale, but within a few minutes we’d all gone very quiet as we understood how terrifying the task ahead was. If we took a wrong step, or slipped, then we literally risked falling off the side of a cliff.
The path was so narrow that you had to just put one foot in front of the other – as in, it was not wide enough to stand with feet side-by-side. The physical act of turning around to go back the way we came could also have been perilous. We carefully placed one foot, and then the next, and then the next (remember we each had 40 lbs on our backs), whilst looking very carefully for rocks or plants that we could slip on. The steady drizzle and fog meant we couldn’t see what was beyond the cliff-side, which made things feel even more ominous.
Clearly I lived to tell the tale, and so did everyone else, thank God! And once I’ve connected this story to my theological reflection, I’ll tell you the cosy ending to the story 😉
This episode came to my mind while I read Elisabeth Leseur’s words this morning, because it gives a very different perspective of the “narrow path”. Rather than having to figure out some abstract path that God wants me to take, it paints an image of Him asking me only to worry about taking the next right step; to put one foot carefully in front of the other, to forget about what’s beyond the fog surrounding me, and trust that if I do so then I will end up safely at my destination – Heaven.
I don’t think this means that we should only think about ourselves, our homes, our immediately family (although we definitely should think about those thing). It can, and should, definitely encompass the big problems troubling our world. But I think it means that we should seek to respond to how the Spirit is moving us now, today, and not what God might ask of us in the future.
So now, for the end of the hiking story… Well, after a mile or so, we reached a break in the path that connected to a road. My best friend (the other girl) and I decided to take our chance to get off the path, and attempt to hitch a ride to a nearby town. The guys decided to keep walking.
After just a few minutes, a young woman drove by on this fairly deserted road. She slowed down for us and, seeing what a sorry state we were in, offered to drive us somewhere. We were so relieved and grateful, not only to have found a ride but for it to be someone that we felt we could easily trust. The woman dropped us off in a village where we found a charming, cosy cafe that offered us tea and scones – can you imagine anything more comforting after such a trying morning?
After that we caught a bus to the capital of the island, where we checked into a hostel. We went to a local butcher and picked up some venison burgers for dinner, which we ate in the hostel’s communal area with a view over the bay. My best friend and I still talk often about the sheer bliss of that evening. We were so glad we had decided to get off that path and opt for a bit of comfort.
A couple of days later, we reconvened with the guys, who had kept on until the end of the hike. They were pleased with their decision, too.
I thought my theological reflections were over, but I guess there are some in there too. Sometimes God throws beautiful and unanticipated blessings our way, and our “next step” is simply to accept it with gratitude. Sometimes we start down one path, and then realise God had something different in mind than what we had expected. And always, God wants each of us to arrive at our destination, but doesn’t want us all to get there in the same way.