I do it quite frequently, only maybe not the kind some might be imagining right now. There are no Nike cross-trainers, or clothes that wick moisture away, or pedometers or disciplined power movements (not that I couldn’t use a bit more of that approach). Generally there is just meandering - looking up, looking down, looking at things close up, taking in the big view. And then always waiting for the joyful moment of beauty, discovery or inspiration. Recently, I’ve begun to see parallels in my desire and approach in going for a walk…and my desired approach in communing with God.
The most recent was last month, when I had to cancel the retreat, due to a washed out road to the retreat house. Building a business whose "target market" tends to be a fairly small niche of nature lovers and contemplatives can be hard enough...without the devastation of torrential rains. Heart by Nature Retreats was born out of a passion to share the joy and glory of the created world, and to help others discover the benefits of just "being" ...say on a hillside of dwarf larkspur or yellow wood poppies or spending a quiet hour in the woods. But unless you see that field or sit in that woodland cathedral, you have no idea what you're missing...and many people are missing these beautiful and reflective moments. Yet sitting in my Adirondack chair bemoaning this dilemma to God felt all too familiar and overdone. So I just got up, grabbed my camera and set out for who-knows-where, feeling a little discouraged.
Within 45 minutes of just meandering through the different habitats at Prairie Pond Woods, I was jogging back to the retreat house, smiling ear to ear and carrying in my folded shirt a harvest of 25 morel mushrooms never before found on the property in that abundance. It was a grace of God to me personally. A teachable moment, when God quoted me the bumper sticker, “All who wander are not lost.” I began to realize how anxious I had become about many things and that maybe it was time to let it all go and rest. Maybe it was time to focus on holding the hand of God rather than the outcomes of my efforts. Maybe it was time to just spiritually meander with God…
For too many years seeking God for me was akin to the first type of “walk” – structured, scheduled, studied and full of goal-oriented discipline. The God-image I used to have was a school teacher, waiting for me to sit down, shut-up, read my Bible, pray my list and get about the business of figuring it all out. (inappropriately referred to as my "quiet time," if you could have monitored my internal life) Getting to know God seemed like kind of a burden. The residuals of that sometimes still remain.
So maybe all who wander within their faith are not lost...or mis-guided...or rebellious. Maybe when they barely know what to say or how to say it because so many prayers have been left unanswered, they are not unfocused, they are just learning to listen. Maybe all who wander within the scriptures, finding more questions than answers, are not wishy-washy, they are learning to question old assumptions. Maybe all who wander with God throughout the day, just aware of the Presence and grateful in heart, are not undisciplined, in fact they are, perhaps, the most disciplined.
It has taken many, many years for the truth of “abiding in the vine” to go the 18 inches from my head to my heart, and then some unknown distance further to my spirit. Maybe meandering is a term that shows age…or maybe it embodies a wise way to discover true communion with God. Now, when I begin each day, it is open, reflective and prayerful in a way that is free of expectation and performance. I seek to experience the “light burden” as I learn about Jesus…the what, when, how, who and where he did what he did, and said what he said. I'm exploring how to pay attention to the ways the Spirit works in my life, both seen and unseen, in its themes, archetypes and dreams. I want to listen to the whispers of that Spirit and experience the call of a loving mother and father…God's equal natures.
Now I know there are scriptures that exhort us to “run and finish the race” and I’m not suggesting that discipline should be ignored. In fact, one of the most profound things anyone ever said to me is, “The goal of all true discipline is freedom.” But all too often lately I see Christians more interested in seeking “being right” (which can involve over-discipline, arrogance, performance, judgment, etc.) than in seeking “righteousness,” which is the living out and longing for all things to be set in their right relationship (involving humility, sorrow, dependence and faith).
Any marathon runner will tell you that it is important to pace yourself for a long-distance run. But maybe the zeal with which many people begin and continue to live their spiritual lives can’t be sustained. All too often many burn out, some become curmudgeons and some get smaller and smaller as they dig in their theological heals. Know any people or pastors like that? So, maybe after thirty-something years down this path I've gained a bit of wisdom…and meandering towards the finish line is just what is needed.
- Is there an area in my life where I spin my wheels…getting nowhere and feeling unfruitful? How could I relax this expectation and allow God to show me a better approach?
- Is there a morning or afternoon I could take a meandering walk, either alone, with my partner or children? What if we just walked and observed all that is in our backyard?