River silt and fear

It’s appropriate to be fearful in a life-threatening situation. In fact fear can be a good thing when it makes us alert and cautious. Last year, after a pounding rain storm the night before, I started on a trail section where a sign warned that the trail was impassible in high water. The Potomac had been running high, but Chester and I started out anyway. I had my reasons. I knew if the trail went under water, I could always turn back for my car. I also knew that for the last 100 miles, the towpath was always raised well above the Potomac’s flood line. Besides, I knew that whenever there is a major obstacle on a main trail, hikers make their own unauthorized path around the problem.

After five minutes on the trail, however, I was really nervous, for good reason. Here the towpath was only a ledge right next to the river, inches above it the rushing current. Meanwhile, there was a cliff just on my right. I had to hold Chester close. I also had just come to a place where thick silt covered large patches of the stone path. The towpath must have flooded here only a few days earlier. I stopped. Now I knew three more things. Because of the rain last night, the river was surely on the rise again, and if it rose any more, the towpath could go under water, right here. I could cross the silt now, but if I came to a spot further up the trail where I had to turn around, by the time I got back to this spot, this might be flooded too. With the cliff on my right, there was nowhere to climb out to safe ground and I would be stranded. Suddenly I was afraid to go further…

In John 6, the disciples were appropriately afraid when their boat on the sea was threatening to capsize because of the wind and waves. For them, there was no turning around. But they had experience on their side, and I’m sure they were doing their best in spite of fear. But the storm was not the only thing they were afraid of. They saw Jesus walking toward them and they were terrified. Here a great good was reaching out toward them, life-giving not life threatening, and they were afraid of that as much as the storm. Oh, how often we are afraid of the goodness that calls to us.

Back on trail, facing the river silt at my feet, I had just decided to turn around. Suddenly I saw a stranger and his dog walking toward me from the direction I was afraid to go. I asked him about the trail up ahead. He smiled and said the worst part of the trail was right here. In only another half mile the towpath rose well above the river and from then we would be fine. A stranger with good news. He was right, and that day full of caves and wild river was one of the most interesting on the long walk. In fact, I might even say it was life-giving, because through it I have learned and reflected a lot on my own fear, and how Christ meets us in many different guises and guides us in the way that we should go.

The disciples in the boat found that out. Read John 6.15-27.