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WEEKLY REFLECTIONS

~ The Road in Our Hearts ~

We have finished the first month’s travel on the road into a new year of a new millennium. I’ve been thinking about roads and forest trails lately. One of Robert Frost’s most well known poems came to mind when I again pondered Jesus’ words, “...and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through [its gate]. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13b-14, NIV). You may recall the often-quoted last few lines of “The Road Not Taken”:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Because these lines are quoted out of context, we may be inclined to think Frost chose the less traveled road for that reason, that it was less familiar to himself and others and that perhaps he wanted to see why it was less traveled. The poem isn’t about the less traveled road, however. As the title declares, it’s about “the road not taken,” the more traveled one. So what does Frost say about that one?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

The forest hiker “looked down one [road] as far as [he] could” to where “it bent in the undergrowth.” This reminds me of the choking thorns in Christ’s parable of the seed sower. (See Matthew 13:18). He took the other road, “having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear.” The road to Zion is nourishing, “level and smooth,” and wants more wear than the inhabitants of this earth give it.

An epic poem that tells of a perilous journey is “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Here are some image-rich lines that remind me of the life journeys of many during their times of fear and terror:

The pang, the curse, with which they died,
Had never passed away:
I could not draw my eyes from theirs,
Nor turn them up to pray.
And now this spell was snapt: once more
I viewed the ocean green,
And looked far forth, yet little saw
Of what had else been seen -
Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread.
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

This is a walk in fear and loneliness. Yet, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18, NIV). So we embrace the Spirit of love, Who is like “the wind [that] blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going” (John 3:8). And in that wonder, the next lines of the poem tell us:

But soon there breathed a wind on me,
Nor sound nor motion made:
Its path was not upon the sea,
In ripple or in shade.
It raised my hair, it fanned my cheek
Like a meadow-gale of spring -
It mingled strangely with my fears,
Yet it felt like a welcoming.
Swiftly, swiftly flew the ship,
Yet she sailed softly too:
Sweetly, sweetly blew the breeze -
On me alone it blew.
Oh! dream of joy! is this indeed
The lighthouse top I see?
Is this the hill? is this the kirk?
Is this mine own countree?

We drifted o'er the harbour-bar,
And I with sobs did pray -
O let me be awake, my God!
Or let me sleep alway.

He is praying, “Let this be a reality, or let me keep dreaming it!” I imagine myself exclaiming those words upon reaching my true, heavenly homeland. “When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed” (Psalm 126:1, NIV). On that road, “He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying the harvest with him” (Psalm 126:6).

Some of us are familiar with the Damascus road, on which the apostle Paul preceded us. It’s a road well traveled. Like Paul, we were on our high horse, sword at our side, proud, powerful and righteous, convinced of our grasp of the way things were and ought to be, ready to purge our world, our houses of worship and our religion of contamination and perversion. Then the brilliant light of Christ knocked us down and blinded us to the world we believed we knew and understood so well. Sight returned to reveal a new vision of the way God sees the world, a vision of the Christ Himself, a new calling down a different, less traveled road.

A less traveled, narrower road is that of the way to Emmaus. Many of us are familiar with that one too, in the Scriptures and in our own experience.  On that road we meet a Stranger who causes our hearts to burn within us. His sacramental, communal offering of simple bread opens our eyes again to the brilliant and magnificent vision and presence of Christ.

We all know of the valley of the shadow of death in Psalm 23. There is also the bitter valley that is transformed by some spiritual pilgrims: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose hearts are the roads to Zion. As they pass through the Valley of Tears and Weeping, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with blessings. They walk from strength to renewed strength, till each appears before God in Zion” (Psalm 84:5-7).

And that is the end of the pilgrim road. “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all people, to the spirits of righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-23).

The road to Zion, the Way that is infused in the heart by the restorative, life-giving Holy Spirit, is blessed with repose, with contemplative pauses and rests. Our God, however,  “neither slumbers nor sleeps” and graces “gifts on his beloved while they sleep” (Psalm 127:2). When we awaken on this road we are more nourished and gifted than when we fell into sleep, such is God’s vigilance and love. One of those gifts is the realization that “all that we have accomplished you have done for us, O Lord” (Isaiah 26:12b). And we walk on in deep gratitude and unfathomable wonder. “We are lost in wonder at all that you have done for us, our Lord and mighty God!” (Revelation 15:3).

“Is this the hill? Is this Mt. Zion? Is this my homeland? And I with sobs did pray - O let me be awake, my God! Or let me sleep always.”
 

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
~ Education, Research and Advocacy
   in the Christian Faith ~
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