Wayfaring and Wayfinding
by Katie Myers, Lay Leader
A few years ago while on a retreat, I set off to explore a nearby walking trail. I had been assured that the path was well marked with white ribbons, and I headed off confidently into the woods following the well-trod track. Eventually though the way became harder to see, and I started looking for the promised ribbons. At the next point where the path forked, I paused and peered around in the trees searching for a white ribbon waving in the breeze, but they were surprisingly hard to find. Finally I picked a direction that I thought was correct and continued on. I glanced behind me and clearly saw the white ribbon that had been so hard to spot a moment earlier. This pattern continued for the rest of the walk – at each moment of doubt and second guessing, a glance back would yield confirmation. At one of the trickiest junctures where I had paused quite a while trying to discern the way, I saw not one but three ribbons when I glanced back over my shoulder as I continued along the trail.
Later that day another walker took the same path and told me that the trail had been blazed from the opposite direction, hence the reason I could discern the path so much more clearly looking back from where I’d come. Despite the logical explanation, the truth of this story remains – our path is always clearer when we reflect back on it than when we’re trying to discern it. Kierkegaard expresses it this way, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
We in the United Methodist Church are at a moment where we too may wish for a sign, a ribbon waving in the breeze, something to show us which way to go. As we stand at these crossroads, reflecting back on where we have come from – on the heritage we have received – let us consider what that heritage is. On a literal level, we are here in one way or another because someone journeyed from where they had been to where we are now. Whether that was a physical move across the country or the decision to plant a church where there was not one before wayfaring, traveling, beginning a new thing is how Laurel Heights came to be. On a spiritual level, one of the foundational identities of God’s people is that they are a people on the move – ever being led by God to somewhere they have not been before. We recall God’s call to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)
In the Godly Play telling of this story, Abram and Sarai begin by following the river from Ur to Haran. Eventually God asks Abram and Sarai to move on to another new place, but this time they are led out into the desert with no river to follow. Their journey with all their tents and livestock and family takes a very long time. Finally they come to a place called Shechem. There Abram climbs a hill to pray and finds that God is there. Then they continue on, and again and again the pattern repeats. They continue on and find that in each new place God is there.
The poet Antonio Machado writes “caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar” – often translated as “Wayfarer, there is no way, the way is made by walking.” Standing forever in the woods wasn’t a realistic option for me that day. Is it truly an option for us either? We do our best to discern and then set out making our way, living with the discomfort and uncertainties of life on the road. Perhaps we too will look back along the way and see signs of reassurance waving to us from the branches. Above all though we are called to trust that whatever way, whatever path, whatever road we make as we go, we will find that in each new place God is there.
Katie Myers is the Lay Leader for 2019, a role that works to support and encourage the leaders and ministries of the church and develop the work of the membership to be ever growing disciples of Jesus Christ. She is married to Webb and mom to Molly and Allen.