to wend a way

It was a wilderness I didn’t quite know I was entering, a tenuous in-between space that turned far more strange and wandering than planned. This whole year, far from home, is so incredibly different than I expected, I cannot untangle and describe all that is good and hard, frustrating and valuable. Not even to myself. Not even – especially – not to God.

Did that pillar ever disappear? Did they ever just sit a few days because the pillar had gone missing no matter how much they believed? That was most of my wilderness. Just an unfamiliar landscape to be survived without direction, without purpose; subsisting on yet more that feels foreign, yes, even the blessings. Falling in love, free time, manna? (what is it?)

But God comes back, God reminds us who we are. I may never understand these forth-and-back movements, except to name them “seasons” and seek peace in the midst. Yet we sing and pray and keep faith, because the other gods “do not dwell among men” but the God of Daniel teaches us to prophesy and follows us into the fiery furnace – a wild journey indeed it is, to go with this God who returns.

God returned last week, nodding over my shoulder as I read Daniel, and soon I fell to begging all the harder for answers – “Where are we GOING?” – and God said nothing, maybe a whispered patience and a hope that I would find the pillar in the woods.

And I went to the real wilderness – at least, I went to the New York countryside. I drove south, and I went whatever way looked promising. I took the side roads that made their ways into forest, but I found only farms and homes. My feet longed to traipse the earth, my heart to find real solitude. And I prayed, and I drove on.

And then I knew where I was going, like I remembered the way; I passed some roads, rounded a bend, and hit the brakes because I knew to turn here. A couple miles past more houses, some posted trails, and there the sign: New York State Forest.

Have you ever come home and cried? I stepped onto the trail and I cried for how much I needed the trees and the walking alone, no pavement, no sirens.

I followed the Spirit off the trail – that direction, there is something there – and found another, higher trail. I followed the Spirit to water and to stillness and to peace. I followed a deer to the morning’s rut. It was Earth Day.

The Answer was not in that forest; I may never know The Right Thing To Do In The Future with certainty. This has never been the way with me. Only sometimes I know with certainty what I am to do here, now, and the path winds up and around; it makes little sense; and there is an indescribable peace in following this inscrutable way. Then I try to discover the reasons, or look into the future, or simply get distracted, and I have stopped listening; and I have aimed myself at something in the distance; and I am following no longer.

I used to know a lot about myself, my convictions, and my desires. Now I know less; I am less ambitious; less confident. I know the wilderness is bigger than I, and God yet larger and more untamed, but Her mercy is without measure. Even as the hazy vision of a way appears in the distance, the point of this journey remains unclear; this new humility uncertain; the desert uncomfortable; and I still don’t know what I am becoming.

We usually hope someone will come along to show us the shortcut out of the wilderness, or at least assign some meaning to its twists and turns and especially its pains. But my wilderness is my own, and I know only that I am not through it yet. You will wander for your own reasons, and neither of us may ever know them.

I can say only one thing. God is with us. We can be lost without being lost, and in all our wanderings and searching anxieties still God sees us, there in the palm of his hand. When the pillar is gone, when you can’t see the way, when you’re left to walk alone on legs that will not hold, still. Know that God was with our fathers and mothers in faith, and God. Is. With. You.

We will be found. We will be led, into trust, moment by moment. Grace is near, and there will be water; may we of little faith, we of little strength, we the broken, stubborn, and confused, all find rest.

Leave a comment


  1. Jacqueline in Atlanta

     /  April 24, 2013

    J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “Not all those who wander are lost.”

    Wander on, seeking water and answers. In the process you will find owls and cool trees, animal hidey-holes and big, open spaces, wildflowers and wild things. You might even find an answer. Most of all you will discover good questions to ask and a good God who doesn’t mind listening.

    I always feel it is the best honor to be asked to join another person on a hike. Hikes are sacred, like going into a sanctuary. To share that with someone else is a gift given.

  2. Love this. (particularly your use of the word “wend”)

  3. Dave

     /  April 26, 2013

    When we travel to Oklahoma we know the way… Get on i-40 west and drive. When we know the destination so often we plan the most direct route and ignore, even bypass, the journey.

    I feel that you would be quite unhappy knowing the destination. Because you so enjoy the adventure and discovery of the unknown, how much of that would be lost if you knew the destination? Or worse, how long would it be before you determined the path to take rather than follow into the unknown. Know that there is a destination – and a journey to experience that God chooses to reveal one bend of the path after another.

  4. Mallory

     /  May 2, 2013

    I love this.


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