“The Christian experience, from start to finish, is a journey of faith.”
In April of this year, my husband and I hiked a section of the Appalachian Trail (I discuss this trip here). Part of the purpose of that trip was to scout it out in order to bring a team of youth and adults from our church later in the summer. We wanted to find good water sources and camping spots, especially since our group grew to be about 25 people. When we hiked in April, spring was just beginning to peek through. The trees were starting to bud but were mostly bare, offering us plentiful views of fuzzy, rolling mountains. The ground was littered with dead leaves with tiny shoots pushing forth.
During our summer trip, however, the path looked completely different. Instead of many views of mountains, I was surrounded by lush green trees blocking the mountains from sight. Instead of a mostly bare ground, the forest floor was bursting with ferns and undergrowth. The change was so dramatic that many spots looked completely foreign to me. I thought I would recognize the places we camped and rested, but I was completely dumbfounded. As I lead a group depending on my ability to tell them the stopping points, I felt bewildered and stressed.
The Needed Signs
This inability to identify the once clear signs from an earlier trip, reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s novel The Silver Chair where Jill and Eustace are transported to Narnia and given a difficult task of finding the missing prince. In order to accomplish their goal, Aslan has given Jill specific signs to look for. After Jill repeats them until Aslan is convinced she has memorized them, she is sent off to begin the journey, but not before he gives her some final advice:
But, first, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night…And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse you. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs.
As you can imagine, there is a great deal of confusion when they try to follow the signs, and there are a whole lot of mistakes before they figure it all out. At the end of the novel, Jill is ashamed before Aslan for all her bungling of the signs, but Aslan quickly comforts her saying that she did accomplish what she was sent to do and that “I will not always be scolding.” As in each of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia books, he has a specific spiritual theme to communicate. In this one, the focus is on the necessity for Scripture to guide us.
In this story, and in my own experience on the trail, sometimes it’s not as easy as it looks. The path may not look the way we expected it to, either because of challenges or internal conflict. It is in these moments, we are reminded of the need to know the Word which is a light on our path and to know the Word who is God.
Psalm 25:4-5 and 8-10 beautifully states:
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.
Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
We cannot help but pray with the psalmist that God would guide us. In the times when the clear path we used to know has changed shape and is no longer recognizable, we need a savior who not only looks down on us in love, but who walks beside us in patience. A clear requirement for this guiding presence is humility.
Humility Keeps Us Focused
This humility is most needed when we are tempted to critique the journey of others. It can be hard when our paths, though in many ways the same, are experienced so very differently. Even on the hiking path, it was amazing how two people could walk the same path but experience it in diverse ways. The sights I noticed–light filtered through trees, the clean smell of earth, the floating butterfly–might not be the same ones my friend noticed and might not cause the same emotion.
If that is possible on a physical path, it can be assumed that spiritual paths will also be different. Jill and Eustace learn in their own story the dangers of spending too much time arguing about the signs instead of working as a team. We must remember that we are all on a journey of faith. While there may be times when things do not seem clear, or we are distracted by the journeys of other believers, we can focus our eyes on the Path-giver and be faithful to what has been shown us.