Two Paths to Walk

I think there are two paths that each of us walk. I think we travel on these at the same time but are often unaware of one while we focus the greater part of our attention and effort on the other.

  1. We are all going about the daily busy-ness of our lives.
  2. At the very same moments, each one of us is traveling toward our end of life here on earth.

Americans now experience so much control over our lives (the Vikings aren’t going to come and plunder our village in the Spring) and we have such marvelous health and healthcare – we don’t have to face end-of-life issues as our ancestors once did (fearing the plague each time a stranger visited).

It is possible to become so caught up in the here and now, and our control over it, that we lose our perspective on the eternal. Even though you’ve heard that topic a hundred ways a hundred times before, it’s still worth thinking about. So that when you are sitting there in the middle of the disaster it’s possible to begin to see things finally as they really are. I’m reminded of the story of Lot. He faced a number of terrible tragedies.

While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: “Your sons and daughters were feasting in their oldest brother’s home. Suddenly, a powerful wind swept in from the wilderness and hit the house on all sides. The house collapsed, and all your children are dead. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”  – Job 1:18-19

How does anyone move on after hearing this horrible news? But when it happens there’s no escape, no denial, no easy fix. It’s possible that something dreadful will happen in this lifetime to you or someone you love. During disasters, people start thinking about eternity. But why wait for the roof to fall in to awaken to these two paths you’re walking right now? Why not look for opportunities now, when you’re not in panic mode, to start putting this present life into a much larger perspective.

Remember…

  1.  None of us are in as much control as we and our bank account think we are.
  2. A walk with God that’s only (barely) a hobby will not carry anyone far when the worst news arrives.
  3. God’s concerns for us are usually different than our own self concerns – that can be alarming.
  4. When your life falls apart – for whatever reason – you will hear all sorts of religious explanations from well meaning loved ones (and strangers). Don’t let this common phenomenon change your own search for answers from God himself.
  5. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, just the presence of God is all we really need to take us down whatever road we’re forced to walk.

“Beware of trying to patch up a present refusal to walk in the light by recalling past experiences when you did walk in the light.” ― Oswald Chambers

John Muir (1838-1914) was one of America’s great naturalists. He co-founded the Sierra Club and was instrumental in helping to establish many of our national parks. I like this quote about how to walk through the world while remaining conscious of where you are really going and what’s happening all around you. Is this what we are now calling being mindful?

“I don’t like either the word [hike] or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not ‘hike!’ Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the middle ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre’, ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.” ― John Muir

What would it take for you to saunter through your day tomorrow, or the rest of your life?

 

What’s Under Your Tree?

“In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it ‘Christmas’ and went to church; the Jews called it ‘Hanukkah’ and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say ‘Merry Christmas!’ or ‘Happy Hanukkah!’ or (to the atheists) ‘Look out for the wall!” ― Dave Barry

“Peace is the only battle worth waging.” ― Albert Camus

Sometimes getting prepared for Christmas seems like waging war. There are gifts to think about, purchase, wrap, hide, remember and haul around. All that beautiful wrapping paper and ribbons to wad up and push into garbage bags. Dinners to plan, prepare and clear up (10 minutes later). So much decorating! Why is there all this traffic on the way to every social event?

I’m a professor, and in my house getting ready for the holiday season also means ending a semester with exams, papers and grading. So many loose ends to tie up. Why did so many students not worry about their grade until the last seconds? Happens every year since Plato I guess.

“One of the great disadvantages of hurry is that it takes such a long time.”  ― G.K. Chesterton

Our American version of Christmas can mess up your mind and heart if you’re not careful. Keep watch over your mood, how you treat others and what’s really important. Go to church, hear a Christmas musical, remember again what this all really means.

Loving others the way God loves us, every day, is the eternal gift that people never outgrow.

Are you starting to get every name checked off your list? Isn’t shopping online a wonderful new invention? Drawing names in a family also works well – dispersing the thoughtfulness more evenly and keeping the extravagance in check. I hate running around trying to fill up a bowl of obligation. Be certain to take the time to place under your tree gifts that matter. Something that conveys your own devotion not just a duty.

“Oh look, yet another Christmas TV special! How touching to have the meaning of Christmas brought to us by cola, fast food, and beer…. Who’d have ever guessed that product consumption, popular entertainment, and spirituality would mix so harmoniously? ” ― Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes)

Steal a few moments from all the commotion around the table and tell each other something important. Pray out loud. Hold hands. Go over and sit next that aunt with the funny hairdo. Ask her to tell you about her favorite Christmas memory. Before it’s too late, think about the people on your list who are alone during this time of year – and do something about it. Make sure that your tree of blessing is seen and shared by others.

“Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weaknesses and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and to ask yourself if you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open? Are you willing to do these things for a day? Then you are ready to keep Christmas!” ― Henry Van Dyke

It really isn’t that complicated, it’s not hard, but it is like shoveling snow (I imagine). Buried beneath all the clutter are the simple gestures of kindness, humanity and love. Just open the gate of your life a little more this month. Let the peace on earth and good will toward all run out like escaped pet dogs. This year, let’s all look at our trees as if they were our last. Let’s not take anything for granted. Let’s number our days and make each one count.

“For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.”  ― John Ortberg

Stop every day during this season and wait, watch and listen. Find a corner to hide  in and reflect. Make sure that you don’t miss the train. There’s meaning all around you, but it can speed past if you aren’t watchful and mindful. Turn off the technology! Look carefully at your tree, is it ornamented with meaning? With objects of love and memory that you can share as often as anyone passes?

You remember the classic Shaker song (a dance number actually) that teaches so much about how to live in this world we’ve built for ourselves. It’s hard to imagine what the Shakers who first sang this in 1848 would think of today’s pace of life.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

Be sure to save a simple moment today and be free from your busy-ness and everything that doesn’t really matter.

Free yourself to make this Christmas count.