Stuck in a thicket

As a young man, John Muir set off to walk from Kentucky to Florida, hoping then to sail on to Cuba and South America. (He never reached the latter on this trip.) In his pack he carried a plant press to collect specimens on his way and mail them back to his brother. He also carried a journal and wrote about the journey. As he crossed the Appalachian mountains in Tennessee and Georgia, the first mountains that he had ever seen, he wrote of walking back roads and following trails. It was not easy. In the first place there were gangs of former soldiers with no work after the Civil War, who thought nothing of beating and robbing a lone man on foot. But a second obstacle was the lack of passable roads and trails in the mountains, many of which disappeared into nowhere around the next bend. On a number of occasions, Muir found himself bushwhacking through the undergrowth. He writes how the briers could so wrap themselves around a person that one could get literally stuck and, after hours of effort, make little if any headway. I have been caught plenty of times by wild raspberry branches, vicious thorns grasping onto pant legs and skin, the struggle to free oneself only bringing more pain and blood. I can feel Muir’s struggle as I read his journal.

This Sunday we hear Luke quote the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough places smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”

Personally, I happen not to want any mountains leveled or valleys filled in. But I do fully resonate with the metaphor behind it. Oh, how devastating it is when I cannot see the way out of a circumstance, when I feel trapped, where every move I make only pulls me deeper into the mess and so am on the verge of giving up. I’m sure most of you know what I mean, because it seems to be an inevitable part of our human endeavors. We suddenly look up out of the thorny thicket of our lives and know we need a road, a way out, some slender deer trail of hope even, some glimpse of the next step forward.

It’s not surprising, then, that Jesus has called himself the Way, and it is to him I inevitably turn with my lament, discouragment and frustration. I can’t say he’s ever sent a bulldozer in response; but he has on numerous occasions sent friends who calm me down from fighting the brambles and who can point out an opening that I didn’t notice on my own. Then, in a quiet sort of way, I do see a glimpse of God’s salvation/healing, take a deep breath and try the next step.


  1. Beautifully said, Elaine.

    “take a deep breath and try the next step. “