Off the Beaten Path

When you have a specified destination and limited time or supplies, it’s best to stick to a known way, but on occasion, choosing the less-traveled path can actually lead to a serendipitous outcome.

One Sunday afternoon, wandering the ravine on my own, I came across backyards of houses and had no idea of what road they were on.  Going back and persuading my husband to accompany me, we traced my route.  Hearing voices, we called out a greeting to the people up above.  Because the back of properties behind us bordered each other in an odd way, they were actually just three doors down from us.  Extending the handle of a hoe, they pulled us up onto their backyard to enjoy some campfire hospitality.  Turns out they were from northern Ontario, and  had just moved in.  We’ve enjoyed a neighbourly relationship since.  Makes a great origin-of-friendship tale!

There are times when we miss so much by taking the wide, well-traveled paths.  Jesus warns that it can be deceptive, though it seems far easier to follow the crowd.   A narrow, less-worn path, though lonely at times,  may be your unique path to get where you really need to be.

In a memorable scene in the Muppet Movie, Kermit tells Fozzie to “take a left turn at the fork in the road.”  A navigator and clear landmarks can be really helpful.  It’s not always that clear!  What we lose in clarity, however, may be made up for in adventure and growth.

Construction or an accident may compel us to take detours.  As much as these slow us down, an unfamiliar smaller road can open up the world, allow us to experience the small towns or villages we’ve formerly only known by names on signposts.    As “shunpikers,” we can avoid a 401 highway where everyone seems hell-bent on getting to their destination.

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

                                                     Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”






“Humans are notoriously bad at walking in a straight line,” observes Dr. Elizabeth K. Andre in her Great Course seminar on Outdoor Fundamentals, citing several examples from her group-leading experience in the back country.  We have little sense that we’ve veering in the wrong direction, and can easily find ourselves miles away from our intended destination.

As a kindergartner on her way home from school in the little village of Ancaster, I once found myself lost in a subdivision maze.   We’d only lived in the village a few months and I had somehow taken a wrong turn.  Even though there was a water tower landmark in the distance, there didn’t seem to be a way to navigate out.    Eventually my weeping attracted a sympathetic young mother at home with her baby, who called the police to help me find my way home.   You don’t soon forget that panicky feeling.

Our home now is above large ravines that cut down to the shores of Lake Erie.  When we first acquired the property, we thought it would be fun to explore this wooded area with friends, perhaps work our way to the lakeshore.  After an hour and a half of climbing over fallen logs,  hopping rivulets and avoiding swampy areas, we decided to climb up to see where we were.  Chagrined, we saw we’d arrived at a meadow only ten minutes away from home.  If we’d followed the road, it would have only been a 25-minute walk to the lake.

It’s not only in a physical sense that human beings have trouble keeping to straight paths.  We’re  intrigued by shiny things, make detours around obstacles and then get confused, we take short cuts, we’re pulled in different directions. We fail to be aware of our surroundings only to find that now night is coming on, and we have no idea how to get home.

At Sinai the Israelites were given clear instructions on God’s ways, laws that promoted harmony and wellbeing.   As they wandered in the wilderness, God miraculously provided the sustenance of manna and water to the people of Israel,  wherever they were.  They might have considered that they’d arrived once they reached the promised land, but in accommodating to the pagan idolatry around them, they failed to notice the little deviations that eventually took them totally off-track spiritually.

Jesus once told his disciples that he was himself the Way, the pathway to heaven that we can follow.  The bread and the wine of communion, his body, is given for both direction and providence for the journey through this sometimes thoroughly disorienting world.

Light of the world
Bread for the way
Live wholly in us
As we travel each day.

When the woods are dark
And it’s hard to see
When the street’s unfamiliar
The wrong place to be.

Then let your Presence
Be the path that you’ve made
For you go on ahead of us
And we need not be afraid.

Trudy Prins

Counting Blessings

Image by Jill Wellington, Pixabay, with thanks.

“Oh, how great is the abundance that is stored in granaries so rich above, that down on earth were fields ripe for sowing!    Dante’s Paradiso, Canto 23, 130-132

In his TED talk on cynicism, Jamil Zaki referenced a study on two Brazilian fishing villages, only 30 miles apart.  Fishermen in one village worked together to fish the ocean, sharing the necessary heavy equipment.  Fisherman in the other inland village fished on a lake in small craft.  On the ocean, people trusted each other and worked together.  On the lake, there was competition and mistrust.

We put a lot of time and energy into acquiring, storing and guarding possessions, and it seems as if God has a tough time prying off our fingers from them.  Like the lake fishermen, we are convinced that the world is a place of limitation and scarcity.   It’s as if, Zaki noted,  we think of life as a zero-sum game.

When we begin to understand we are part of a community, a world, where no one wins unless everyone’s needs are satisfied, we can begin to tame the grasping part of our nature that wants to hoard.  We can open our hands to receive, and share what resources we have.  We learn to trust the Giver.

This became abundantly clear to me in the years when I worked to help contract and schedule corn receiving.  The plant needed 40-60,000 bushels of corn daily to process into starches and syrups, roughly 35 trucks per day.    Sometimes, near the end of an old crop season, supplies were tight.  It could feel, as someone jokingly teased, that we were like hens scratching for corn in a farmyard.   So often there was unexpected grace in answer to prayer, along with the reliable suppliers who did what they could,  and our own hard work.  In all the time I was employed there, through prosperous and lean years, we did not run out of corn, though it sometimes came very close.

God laid His character on the line when he challenged the Israelites of the Old Testament on the practice of tithing, bringing the first and best of their produce and livestock to the priests at the temple.   If they were stingy, they would always struggle to eke out a living, have purses with holes in them.  Be generous in this, and they would have more than enough for themselves and others.

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”   Malachi 3:11

It is a relief to lay down our burdensome worrying and to trust that God’s providence comes out of unending riches, an unlimited ocean.  With joy we receive liberal blessings, far beyond what we could ever ask or imagine.