It was a frosty early Sunday morning when I started out for my morning walk. From my porch the path to the park looked like it could be pretty slippery so I wasn’t sure when I started if I’d walk far. It turned out to be fine and before long I was walking along the trail in the park. Jake the Dog trotted along beside me, sniffing and peeing on every bush and shrub he could reach at the end of the leash.
It’s not unusual to encounter another walker on my early morning walks, but that morning, the park and the path were all mine! Jake and I have a kind of tacit agreement that if there’s no one in or near the park, I let him off the leash as we walk the loop inside the park. It’s his responsibility to keep his eyes on the park area and if another person enters the park, with or without canine accompaniment, he comes to me to have his leash reattached. He’s never let me down on this agreement, so we have a high degree of trust on the matter.
I guess I was kind of lost in thought and dialoging with God the way I do when I get my mind quiet enough. I was saying something like, “Father, I don’t think I know nearly as much as I used to. My mind used to be full of the certainties of youth. Pretty much everything was black or white, good or bad, right or wrong. I used to be certain about almost everything. Now my thoughts are full of the questions of age. I’m certain of far fewer things than I used to be. I’m realizing I don’t have all the answers. But I sure have plenty of questions!” I was just rattling on, telling God things God already knew but really doesn’t mind hearing again. Jake was trotting here and there, sniffing and peeing and keeping his eyes open for other park walkers.
Suddenly! (I don’t have any other way to say it!) Suddenly the sun rose over my left shoulder and the frosty path ahead of me exploded into sparkles of brilliant ice jewels! I kept walking a few steps along the pavement of diamonds. Then I stopped and just stood there staring at it all. It was incredibly beautiful! It was the kind of beauty that a phone camera, even a good camera, won’t capture. And as I waited, it began to seem like a holy moment. Or at least that it could be if I didn’t rush on.
After a few moments, I said, “Father, is there something you want to say to me in this moment?” Then I waited. In a moment this came to me: “Stay on the path. Be aware. Be fully present. Stay on the path and keep walking.”
As I stood quietly and expectantly, I began to hear the winter birds singing to the sunrise. I felt the cold breeze on my right cheek and the warm sun on my left cheek. I looked ahead and the wood chip path stretched out like a river of diamonds. I saw the cloud of vapor as I breathed. I stood there maybe five minutes, until my legs were getting cold (I was dressed to speak at church later in the morning).
Then I started walking toward home on a path of diamonds. The path sparkled all the way home, except for a short section that lay in shade. But I knew the beauty was there, even as I walked in the shadows. I knew this incredible beauty would only last a few minutes. The same rising sun that turned the frost to diamonds would melt the frost and take it all away in minutes. But it was mine for the moment, if I was willing to give my full attention to the moment at hand! Jake rejoined me and I clicked the leash onto his collar. I tried briefly to call his attention to the beauty of the moment, but Jake was present in his own moment when a couple of doves landed in the branches of a tree just ahead.
I can’t remember what I spoke on at church a couple of hours later that morning. I hope my message was memorable and helpful to my hearers. But I’m still processing the experience on the path.
I realize this is all very subjective and I’m not doing “chapter and verse” stuff here. You can find a lot of my “chapter and verse” approach to the application of scripture to our lives in my daily “GraceNotes”, devotionals here. But I’ve also realized if my faith and my relationship with God is all and only about “chapter and verse”, I can become just as legalistic and Pharisaical as the folks who resisted Jesus throughout his ministry and who ultimately campaigned for his crucifixion. Encounters with God’s presence and insights from the Holy Spirit are a significant part of keeping my faith alive and functioning!
I’m still processing “Stay on the path!” I started a new segment of my Journey of Discovery a little over ten years ago, during a time of significant and often painful transition. I had help from a good friend who walked with me through the early part of that “path.” I had insights gained from conversations with friends, from books I read, from teaching I received. I had encouragement from my wife and family who didn’t always understand the what and why of my process, but who knew my heart and encouraged me along the way. I’m very much aware that this Journey of Discovery continues to be my path!
I’m still processing how my communication with God used to be mostly about getting needs met, getting answers to things, and reinforcing all my certainties. It’s now much more about learning to let go of unimportant certainties, learning to be at peace with uncertainties, and learning to trust in God’s goodness. Much of the energy that I used to put into looking for answers that provided certainty now goes into looking for how to ask the questions that lead to heart transformation and hope. The path, much like the mercies of God, is new every morning!
I’m still processing the importance of being fully present in the moment. For me that means getting out of bed and going out to the desert in the early morning, or if I can’t do that, at least taking a walk in the park. It means less TV and more conversations and contemplations. It means slowing down for some moments each day and just “being” – not listening to music, not reading, not being entertained, just “being” still. It means intentionally cultivating God awareness through what has become nearly constant conversations (in my head and heart) with my Father. I’m still on the path! I wouldn’t trade the path for anything, friends!
If I hadn’t made the effort to walk that morning, none of this encounter would have happened. The frost would have been on the ground. The sun would have risen in exactly the same spot. The diamonds would have sparkled in the path. But I wouldn’t have seen it! I wouldn’t have experienced that moment of grace! I wouldn’t have heard God say to me, “Stay on the path!”
As always, I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.
I’m planning to write more about stuff I’m learning on my journey. I’d love to know if you find that helpful.
Grace and Peace! Jim