Going home

Sometimes it is helpful to look back and see where one has been.  It might lead to gratitude.  It might lead to wisdom.  Or it might lead to getting back on course if one has strayed.

So last Tuesday I looked back quite physically.  I donned the pack and hit the C&O trail for a good portion of the day, the trail I walked three years ago for seven weeks while learning the gospel of John by heart.

Some things hadn’t changed.  The river still tumbles over the rapids at Harper’s Ferry where some of the oldest homes in the country cling to the hillside.  On the trail poison ivy menaces and mosquitoes bite.  Cottonwood trees still shed their “cotton.”  After nine miles my body was aching as much as it had three years ago.   And I was relearning John’s  first chapter in rhythm with the pace of walking.  In more ways than one I was walking and looking back to where I had been.

Gratitude?  Oh, yes, as I was reminded on Tuesday’s walk of all I had seen and learned before.  I was also grateful for the day away to spend walking.  Wisdom?  Well, maybe not so much in me, but certainly I had once gleaned much wisdom from this unusual gospel, the wisdom from a beloved disciple that had been hammered into my bones, step by step.  It was good to be walking with John again.

Strayed?  Of course.  It has been a difficult three years since that time, and I certainly have not lived up to all I once learned on that pilgrimage.   I am older, more worn and scarred, less certain about many things, including myself.  Tuesday’s walk served to sharpen some of those images and words I had once ruminated on for miles at a time:  words like light, life, grace, witness, truth…and that’s just in the first half of the first chapter.  But for this one day, these words were enough to walk with.  These are words that are good for a person (and in my case, a pastor person) to live with.  They are very different from words like success, fulfillment, security, accomplishment, health.  I think I came walking to be assured of that.

Looking back, one more thing has not changed in the three years.  It doesn’t officially show up until the third chapter of John, but I know it’s there…and that is the profound love of God.  That’s obvious, you say?  Not really.  Every day with each challenge, I have to relearn what it means to live loved by God. My first instincts are defensive.  My failures are usually because I have forgotten to live receiving and responding in God’s deep love.  Somehow on the trail I remember it more quickly.  It’s a bit like going home.