Friday, December 21, 2018

There's more than one way Christ comes to us








This is my column that appeared in “The Arab Tribune” on Wednesday, December 19, 2018.

Every year during the holidays, it seems that one story, one experience, or one conversation captures my imagination. It's not usually any of the gifts, or all the food (as much as there is of that to be impressed by), or the lights or the parties.

It's something unusual, something unexpected, and something a bit heart-warming. This year, it was a phone call.

Last Saturday, our church held our annual "Christmas and Beyond" party where we hosted most of the 150 children and their families that we help with Christmas. We had done all the shopping in advance, so we shared a Christmas program of songs and games, treated everyone to breakfast, and opened a Christmas thrift shop for their families to enjoy.

When it was all over, I got a phone call from one of my parishioners with a story I'll never forget. During the morning's activities, a grandmother who had brought her three grandchildren to Christmas and Beyond told a story to the volunteers who were fixing her coffee.

She said that the night before, her two nephews, who are ages 21 and 23, were at her house, and they asked her grandchildren what they were going to do on Saturday. The kids said they were going to a "Christmas party" at the Methodist church.

The nephews replied, "Oh, you will have a great time! We went there when we were your age, and they made us pancakes, and we heard the Christmas story, and everyone was so nice to us! You will love it!" One of the nephews said "It is my favorite Christmas memory!"

This brings a little mist to my eyes. As if that is not heart-warming enough, the grandmother continued, "You may not realize it but this party has a lasting impact and this is proof. Twenty years later, my nephews still remember your kindness." That's the best phone call I've gotten in a long time.

I love the Advent season. In my faith tradition, it's a four-Sunday season of expectation of the coming of Christ. The little Christmas surprises ... the serendipitous, heart-warming moments ... have grown to be something I expect.

I try to keep my spiritual antenna's up to see where God is going to show up. That's because there's more than one way Jesus comes.

I shared with my congregation that I have recently discovered the teachings of a 12th century French abbot named Bernard of Clairvaux, who said something to ponder during this holy season. He said there are really three "comings" of Christ.

The first was Christ's coming in the flesh. The second will be his coming again in glory. But there is one "coming" in between, his coming into our hearts.

Here are some words from his sermon: “We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among humans; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one."

He continues, "In the first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness. In this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power, in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty. In case someone should think that what we say about this middle coming is sheer invention, listen to what our Lord himself says; ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him’.”

It is this "middle coming" that seems to show up again and again for me during this season, sometimes when I least expect it but I try to always be looking for it. Because it lies between the other two, it is like a road we travel on from Christ's first coming to his last.

As Bernard put it, "In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life. In this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.”

Let him come into your heart today.

Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer who pastors Arab First United Methodist Church. His blog, “Musings of a Musical Preacher,” is found at www.stevewestsmusings.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Thanksgiving Presentation on the Struggle for Religious Freedom in Colonial America

I created this video after the Thanksgiving presentation I did for the local Rotary Club today. It's on the struggle for religious freedom in colonial America, using the case study of my own direct ancestor, Rev. Thomas Maxwell. May it bless you today.

I am so grateful for those who struggled heartily for our religious freedom. Thank you, fourth great grandfather Maxwell! It gives me hope to go through any of the struggles we continue to have in American religion. I'll take the "downside" because of the "upside" of freedom.







Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Why Fight About Prayer When We Can Pray About Fighting?

This is my column that was published in The Arab Tribune on Wednesday, October 17, 2018.

My mother had a habit that I thought was very odd as a child. She had a particular rocking chair, armless and covered in striped velvety fabric. She kept it in the kitchen of whatever house we lived in, near the coffee pot. That was where she had her morning quiet time.

We knew good and well that we were not supposed to disturb her. I learned it was a bad time to ask her for something, because the answer would probably be no.

The younger I was, the more that 45 minutes she spent in her chair, unavailable for me, was like an eternity. I vividly remember lying on the couch, listening to the repeated click of her coffee cup against the saucer, wondering when she’d be through.

Though Mom died years ago, she continues to teach me. She had a contemplative spirit that I inherited, but it didn’t unfold until I was well into adulthood. For her, this morning time spent with God was holy and precious, not forced. And the rhythm of her quiet time, near the opening of each day, was life-giving to her. It was the hook she hung her life on.

I am beginning to see that her faithful witness (and healthy boundaries with her kids) made an impact on my life. She taught me about prayer, not just by what she said but by what she did. It’s a bigger lesson than “now I lay me down to sleep, I pray, the Lord, my soul to keep.”

I watched her make time with God a priority.

In my adult life prayer has become my heart’s longing. Prayer is nothing more, and nothing less, than spending quiet time with God. It’s not complicated. It’s just time. It is healing for the soul.

Quiet reflection, offered to the Lord as a simple gift, is worth it for its own sake. We have to see past our functional assumptions about what prayer “does.” Early In the journey, we learn that it’s about intercession (praying for others) or petition (requesting things of God). We say prayer “works.” That is indeed powerful praying. But this is only a piece of the prayer pie.

Prayer is praise, gratitude, adoration, and contemplation. Prayer is confession, conviction, and honest sharing with God, who sees all and loves all the more. Prayer is silence as much as it is talking, and the purpose is most definitely not limited to giving information with God that God already knows.

I’m no expert and I don’t feel called to live in a monastery. But I do know that it’s easy to oversimplify prayer to asking God for things. Yet it’s also easy to over analyze prayer. Some even think you have to “cover all the bases,” as if prayer is about getting everything in (oh dear, I forgot about adoration today!).

It has been life-giving to get beyond seeing prayer in terms of what it does, and experience it as an outflowing of love for the one who created a deep desire in me. I love morning prayer, evening prayer, contemplative prayer, walking prayer, silent prayer, spoken prayer with friends ... all kinds of spending time with God. My heart burns for it and my soul yearns for it.

So I must admit, even though I’m a religious leader and a believer in prayer, it troubles me to see people fighting about prayer before ball games. For me, at least, that reduces prayer from what it is, an amazing gift and an invitation to share in the heart of God, to something God did not ever intend it to be ... a cultural symbol like flags and statues.

I am so glad to live in a country where we are free to pray. I pray at ballgames and grocery stores, parks and community events. I pray in the car or on the phone. There is no limit to how or where I can pray.

It does not threaten my faith to acknowledge those of other faiths, or no faith at all, and be content with a moment of silence to pray for safety and good sportsmanship. In fact, I think it’s bad sportsmanship to assume that the only prayer that counts is the kind that takes place over a loudspeaker.

Moments of silence don’t bother me because silence is the best prayer anyway. It is said that silence is God’s first language. So I take my hat off and I gladly pray. I suppose I don’t get upset about the lack of a microphone because I am incredibly grateful. In our country, we are free to pray all we want.

Here’s an idea for all of us. Why not pray for those we disagree with? Why fight about prayer when we can pray about fighting? And if you feel led to hold a prayer circle over in a corner at the game, I’d love to come.

I have seen the decision about prayer at football games compared with interrupting Jesus when he prayed on the hillside before feeding the 5,000.For me, that’s apples and oranges. Jesus didn’t insist on taking the microphone before athletic events at the Roman stadiums.

He drew people to the hillside. He taught them and fed them and prayed for them. He was not making a statement, he was abiding with his Father ... and welcoming those who wanted in on their conversation.

Maybe we need more prayer on the hillside and prayer at the gameside. Fighting about prayer is making prayer something other than the gift it was meant to be. Why reduce it to a cultural symbol, when it’s so much more?

As Richard Foster put it, prayer is the heart’s true home. Jesus said to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. He didn’t say to fight against those who persecute us.

Whether you feel public prayer persecutes those of other faiths, or lack of public prayer persecutes those of Christian faith, it’s fair criticism either way. But the prescription is prayer itself.

Prayer is the gift God gave us to deal with the struggles of life. As I write this, I am planning to go to the hillside, or the lakeside at least, tomorrow. I plan to walk and pray, and to let go of my troubles and be filled with the quiet presence of God. I hope to be renewed and refreshed. I invite you to go with me, in your own way.

Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer who pastors Arab First United Methodist Church. His blog, “Musings of a Musical Preacher,” is found atwww.stevewestsmusings.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Couldn’t we all use a Mr. Rogers in our lives again?



This is my column published in the Arab Tribune on Wednesday, September 5, 2018.

“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Won’t you be mine?”

Yes, I’m from that generation. These whimsical words will ring eternally through my mind, because my mind was literally being formed as they were first being sung.

I was three years old when Fred Rogers came to the hood in 1968. I guess you could say I am a “first generation” neighbor to visit Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Who can forget the tell tale jazz piano riff that starts the show, while the camera pans over a model of the quaint little town?

What color sweater will he put on today with his sneakers? Will he have any trouble with the zipper?

Who will visit us today? I only recently discovered Mr. McFeely was a name aptly given, not only because the guest postman helped us learn about our feelings, but because McFeely was Fred Rogers’ middle name. He was probably my favorite of the characters (the human ones, that is).

And what will happen today in the Land of Make Believe? The trolley will take us there. I hope we get to see X the Owl today. He’s funny when he gets grumpy. And poor, poor Henrietta Pussycat. I wonder what will upset her today, meow meow.

My apologies. It’s easy to get lost in the Land of Make Believe. Has it really been 50 years since Mr. Rogers welcomed me into his world?

This summer, I saw the movie celebrating the 50th anniversary of Mr. Rogers. It was heartwarming. My son said, “that’s the most wholesome thing I’ve ever seen.” The movie helped me relive a lot of memories.

But there were things I did not realize. One example is how thought provoking he was about social issues of the time. I had not seen the episode where he waded his feet in the pool of water with his African American neighborhood friend. Another example is the now-famous testimony he gave before the Senate to protect funding for public broadcasting.

Sadly, another is that the infamous Westboro Baptist Church picketing his funeral with inflammatory hate speech, because they could not “tolerate his level of tolerance.”

Believing his creed that that “play is really the work of childhood,” he taught me a lot.

He taught me that it’s important to treat other people like neighbors. Sharing a pool of water with the feet of another was only the beginning of what he did with his kind and neighborly demeanor. As a Presbyterian minister turned television educator, he brought the call to “love thy neighbor” to life.

He taught me that emotions are real and they’re not always easy to deal with. And that it’s okay. There were often tears in the eyes of adults in the Land of Make Believe when Henrietta Pussycat confessed her ill feelings, meow meow.

Mr. Rogers taught me that every person is special and treasured. I have held on to this belief all my life, even to the point of being persecuted for it by those who prefer to be more intolerant. We are all children of God, part of the body of Christ, with unique spiritual gifts for building up the body. We don’t have to think like each other to love each other.

He taught me a sense of holy play. Yes, he’s a Presbyterian minister, but I mean more than that. He had a holy regard for others and for working out feelings and thoughts with children.

He taught me to use the gifts I have been given. I knew he did his own puppet voices, and I guessed he helped build the sets. I was surprised to learn in my adulthood that he personally played the incredible jazz piano I’ve always loved. Mr. Rogers was a musician, puppeteer, writer, creator, producer, composer, stage manager, host, and minister.

We need another Mr. Rogers.

I’ve been thinking about our rampant, contemporary propensity for incivility. You can find it everywhere from international terrorism to national politics to social media. We need more models like him, champions of insightful, accepting, warm conversation that gets to the heart of life.

It has been hard to see things getting so divisive in our great country where we practice such freedom of religion, something we all treasure and value. But there is still a tendency to hurt others, sometimes even because of (not just in spite of) religious beliefs.

Yet the wisdom of God is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” (James 3:17)

I’ve spent way too much time with Jesus to condemn the people he decided, though others were condemning them, to see promise and hope in. The last time I checked, the very definition of Christian love is to love as Christ loved, including those that are different than us, who disagree with us. Jesus even went as far to say “love your enemies.”

This is not optional. This is Gospel. So here’s to people like Mr. Rogers who continue to teach us.

Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer who pastors Arab First United Methodist Church. His blog, “Musings of a Musical Preacher,” is found at www.stevewestsmusings.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Sea Itself Flowing in My Veins

This morning, during morning prayer time, I was reading from "40 Days in the Wilderness" by my friend Dale Clem. I came upon his idea on day 15 that "when we learn and practice being astonished, we also develop a spirit of gratitude." He continues with this. "Tracing the path of a raindrop reminded me of our soul's journeys in, thru, and downward until, finally, we are transformed and rise like a mist." Wow.

He also quotes Anglican mystic Thomas Traherne who says, "You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself flows in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars."

I pray to you, oh Lord.

In the beauty of creation, and in the beauty of the Body of Christ, there is turmoil, there is conflict and resolution, there is danger and there is balance in the system.

I pray that an ocean of grace flows through my veins, no matter what wounds make me bleed. I pray I am clothed in the love of Christ always, no matter what paintballs may be shot toward me out of deep anxiety. I pray I am crowned with the stars, when I am tempted to stick my head in the sand or be down in the dumps.

Today is my dad's 86th birthday. Let dinner with him tonight be a way of connecting with the very "glory of my creation," being who you made me to be as a shining light in the world. Amen.


Friday, July 13, 2018

The High Roads and Low Roads Can Lead to God



This is my column which was published in The Arab Tribune on Wednesday, July 11, 2018.


Pictured are steps on the Perimenter Trail at Sewanee, in the section from Memorial Cross to Morgan’s Steep.


This summer, I took a course at Sewanee on images of God in scripture. One of our assignments was to choose a Biblical image and live with it for the summer. I discovered that sometimes you choose an image, and sometimes it chooses you.


I was pondering what in the world I was going to do for the class when I stumbled upon the Sewanee Natural Bridge (when I say I stumbled upon it, I mean that both literally and figuratively).


I had missed a turn and there it was, a massive bridge made of rock, as solid as ... a rock. It stood on the edge of the woods, a high stone path protruding from the ground. It’s stunning beauty resembled the ancient aqueducts of Greece. This path was not designed by utilitarian humans to go from one place to the next. It was crafted by our Creator to stand tall. It was indeed a “high” way, an enduring way.


Jesus said “I am the way.” It’s interesting that that the Greek for “way” in the New Testament almost always means something more tangible than what we think. It’s not just a method, process, procedure, or technique. It is a street or path, a roadside or route. The magi “returned to their county by another route.” “Take no bag for the journey,” Jesus said. They use the same word.


After standing in awe of the natural bridge for a few moments, I began to explore this high, stone path through the woods. I could easily walk under it and eventually climbed to the top to walk across it. It was immeasurable and immovable.


I do believe Christ is the way. It’s funny how people add the word “only” in front of that statement, as if he didn’t clarify his exclusivity enough. There’s not even a “the” in the Greek. Jesus said, “I am WAY.” He is the personification of the path, the embodiment of the expedition, the incarnation of the excursion. He’s a road trip indeed.


Sometimes the way of God is a “high road,” and sometimes the way is a “low road” (a hidden road, that is).


God as the “high road” is easy to imagine. Highway imagery is everywhere in the Bible. In Old Testament times, “highway” meant exactly that ... it was a road built up, raised from its surroundings so ruts and depressions did not become places where water collects. The technology we use now, including shaping a paved road so that the center is slightly higher than the edges to help with water runoff, has been around a long time.


In Biblical times, local roads were just beaten paths, so a highway was pretty special and took a lot of effort. “Build up the highway, clear it of stones,” Isaiah says in chapter 62. “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way” says Isaiah 57.


Sometimes I travel through through Birmingham, where two major interstates, I-65 and I-59/20, come together at what is not-so-affectionately called “spaghetti junction.” Not long ago an eighteen wheeler fell off the top ramp onto the highway below and exploded, making a huge mess. Finally, last year, they started reconstructing it.


I’ve always wanted them to fix it ... until now. It’s taking forever, and I miss a turn every other time I drive through there. Sudden darts of the car are required to manage the latest temporary turn lane.


I have no idea how road construction works, and trust me, I’ve been trying to figure out what they are doing at spaghetti junction. I’ve concluded that it’s way above my head (again, I’m speaking both literally and figuratively).


But what I have learned about road construction is this. It requires a whole lot of planning, design, and earthwork before you even start paving.


First, the building of a highway requires exhaustive plans by a relentless planner. Next the contractor builds embankments using cuts and fills. Then a grader or bulldozer comes and pushes dirt. Leveling the bumps and filling in dips creates a surface that will last.


After that, the screened dirt is sprayed with water and compacted. During this stage, they install drains and sewers. As I have said, the center of the road is made higher than the edges so water will run off. Drainage is critical for life expectancy of the pavement. All this work must then pass strict inspections.


Then the contractor places gravel in twelve–inch layers on the road bed. Workers moisten and compact each layer. Over and over, layers are added and compacted until the road bed reaches the height required. All of this is before anything is paved. Wow.


I also learned that road construction companies boast of what they call “Context Sensitive Solutions.” Context sensitive? God is that personal with you and with me. 


The psalmist sings, “lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness ... make your way straight before me.” God who is our path is also our pathmaker. God will diligently work to lay a road before you, perhaps especially for you. God is the chief strategist with a hard had, discerning and planning and analyzing all the way.


Like any smart road planner, God considers crash statistics when making a plan. And oh, do I ever have crash statistics on the road of my life. Yet with the diligence of grace, God makes a way.


Sometimes the way of God is a high road. But sometimes it’s a low road (a hidden path).


I have been fascinated by a Vermont government guide entitled “How to Find Ancient Roads.” Written for aspiring road historians, it gives guidance on how to find and map historic road locations that might just lie beneath your town.


I imagined using this guide to search for God, and the advice in the publication made perfect sense. It noted we should expect setbacks but “go back to it and find the rhythm in it.” It mentions that the project goes better if you have help from others in mapping it. It emphasizes keeping a journal and thoroughly, systematic searching.


And listen to this. It notes that “it is not a job for the weak of heart. This task will take organization, commitment, a few tools, and a good deal of time, more than you think.” The printed guide describes the basic tools (spiritual disciplines, if you will) of road records, maps and how to find them, metes and bounds, local history, deeds, and topography. I reflected on the emphasis on topography. Perhaps my topography is the compilation of life experience that tells you where a “natural place” for a road would be.


As if to encourage the saints, the guide concludes “Do not be surprised to discover you can’t find all the answers from your hard work ... The reward is small victories, the long, hard-earned discovery ... You could be breaking a genetic code or opening a long-lost pharoah’s tomb, for the exhilaration you will feel when you make that wondrous discovery.”


God indeed gives joy to those who search until they find the path already laid out before them in the mystery of grace.


Whether you experience God as a protruding path or a hidden way, a high road or low road, God is an ancient path. We can walk on it and find rest for our souls. I know that sounds like an oxymoron since you don’t rest much when you are walking.


But that’s just it ... we never arrive. I’ll never get “there” but Jesus, who said “come follow me,” wasn’t talking about a destination. He was talking about a path, and it’s the path of Peter and Paul, Martha and Mary. It’s the ancient path so many have walked on before. Just being on the path brings rest for the weary soul.


I just finished my fourth summer term on the mountain. I’ve almost finished hiking or biking all 26 miles of the Perimeter Trail around Sewanee. Almost. Last week, I did one of the hardest parts between the Memorial Cross and Morgan’s Steep.


With my class in mind, I pondered the strange concept of walking on God. If God is the way, the path, the trail, who am I to walk on it?


Then my mind wandered to the Irish blessing, “may the road rise to meet you.” God does that. That’s grace.


Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer who pastors Arab First United Methodist Church. His blog, “Musings of a Musical Preacher,” is found at www.stevewestsmusings.blogspot.com.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Where the Good Way Lies

This is a sermon I composed for a class on "Images of God in the Bible" for Dr. Lauren Winner. The class was held in June of 2018 at the School of Theology at The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. I share it here in hopes that you find it helpful to explore one of the coolest images of Christ in the Bible.

“Where the Good Way Lies”
Stephen P. West


“Thus says the Lord: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘we will not walk in it’. Also I raised up sentinels for you: ‘Give heed to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not give heed’.” - Jeremiah 6:16

       Sometimes you choose an image, and sometimes it chooses you. A couple of weeks ago, I was pondering what in the world I was going to do for this class when I stumbled upon the Sewanee Natural Bridge (when I say I stumbled upon it, I mean that both literally and figuratively).
       I had missed a turn and there it was, a massive bridge made of rock, as solid as ... a rock. It stood on the edge of the woods, a high stone path protruding from the ground. It’s stunning beauty resembled the ancient aqueducts of Greece. This path was not designed by utilitarian humans to go from one place to the next. It was crafted by our Creator to stand tall. It was indeed a “high” way, an enduring way.
        Jesus said “I am the way.”[i] It’s interesting that that the Greek for way, hodos, in the New Testament almost always means something more tangible than what we think. It’s not just a method, process, procedure, or technique. It is a street or path, a roadside or route. The magi “returned to their county by another route (hodos).”[ii] We hear “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord (hodos).”[iii] “Take no bag for the journey” (hodos).[iv]
        After standing in awe of the natural bridge for a few moments, I began to explore this high, stone path through the woods. I could easily walk under it and eventually climbed to the top to walk across it. It was immeasurable and immovable.
        As a United Methodist, I thought of my denomination’s “Commission on a Way Forward.” I know we’re going somewhere, and I know not where, but this natural bridge is reminding me how we are going to get there.
        Christ is the way.
        It’s funny how people add the word “only” in front of that statement, as if Jesus didn’t clarify his exclusivity enough. There’s not even a “the” in the Greek. Jesus said, “I am WAY.” He is the personification of the path, the embodiment of the expedition, the incarnation of the excursion! Christ is a road trip indeed.
        Sometimes the way of God is a “high road,” and sometimes the way is a “low road” (a hidden road, that is).
        God as the “high road” is easy to imagine. Highway imagery is everywhere in the Bible. In Old Testament times, “highway” meant exactly that ... it was a road built up, raised from its surroundings so ruts and depressions did not become places where water collects and holes form into “watercourses.”[v] The technology we use now, including shaping a paved road so that the center is slightly higher than the edges to help with water runoff, has been around a long time.
        In Biblical times, local roads were just beaten paths, so a highway was pretty special and took a lot of effort. “Build up the highway, clear it of stones,” Isaiah says in chapter 62.[vi] “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way” says Isaiah 57.[vii]
        I live near Birmingham, Alabama where two major interstates, I-59 and I-20, come together at what is not-so-affectionately called “spaghetti junction.” Not long ago an eighteen wheeler fell off the top ramp onto the highway below and exploded, making a huge mess.[viii] (8) Finally, last year, they started reconstructing it.[ix] I’ve always wanted them to fix it ... until now. It’s taking forever, and I miss a turn every other time I drive through there. Sudden darts of the car are required to manage the latest temporary turn lane.
        I have no idea how road construction works, and trust me, I’ve been trying to figure out what they are doing at spaghetti junction. I’ve concluded that it’s way above my head (again, I’m speaking both literally and figuratively).
        But what I have learned about road construction is this. It requires a whole lot of planning, design, and earthwork before you even start paving.[x]
        First, the building of a highway requires exhaustive plans by a relentless planner. Next the contractor builds embankments using cuts and fills. Then a grader or bulldozer comes and pushes dirt. Leveling the bumps and filling in dips creates a surface that will last. After that, the screened dirt is sprayed with water and compacted. During this stage, they install drains and sewers. As we have said, the center of the road is made higher than the edges so water will run off. Drainage is critical for life expectancy of the pavement.
        All this work must then pass strict inspections. Then the contractor places gravel in twelve–inch layers on the road bed. Workers moisten and compact each layer. Over and over, layers are added and compacted until the road bed reaches the height required.
        All of this is before anything is paved. Wow.
        I also learned that road construction companies boast of what they call “Context Sensitive Solutions”[xi] Context sensitive? God is that personal with you and with me. 
        The psalmist sings, “lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness ... make your way straight before me.”[xii] God who is our path is also our path maker. God will diligently work to lay a road before you, perhaps especially for you. God is the chief strategist with a hard had, discerning and planning and analyzing all the way.
        Like any smart road planner, God considers crash statistics[xiii] when making a plan. And oh, do I ever have crash statistics on the road of my life. Yet with the diligence of grace, God makes a way.
        Sometimes the way of God is a high road. But sometimes it’s a low road (a hidden path).
        I have been fascinated by a Vermont government guide entitled “How to Find Ancient Roads.” Written for aspiring road historians, it gives guidance on how to find and map historic road locations that might just lie beneath your town.
        I imagined using this guide to search for God, and the advice in the publication made perfect sense. It noted we should expect setbacks but “go back to it and find the rhythm in it.”[xiv] It mentions that the project goes better if you have help from others in mapping it. It emphasizes keeping a journal and thoroughly, systematic searching.
        And listen to this. It notes that “it is not a job for the weak of heart. This task will take organization, commitment, a few tools, and a good deal of time, more than you think.”[xv] The printed guide describes the basic tools (spiritual disciplines, if you will) of road records, maps and how to find them, metes and bounds, local history, deeds, and topography. I reflected on the emphasis on topography. Perhaps my topography is the compilation of life experience that tells you where a “natural place” for a road would be.
        As if to encourage the saints, the guide concludes “Do not be surprised to discover you can’t find all the answers from your hard work ... The reward is small victories, the long, hard-earned discovery ... You could be breaking a genetic code or opening a long-lost pharoah’s tomb, for the exhilaration you will feel when you make that wondrous discovery.”[xvi]
        God indeed gives joy to those who search until they find the path already laid out before them in the mystery of grace.
        Whether you experience God as a protruding path or a hidden way, a high road or low road, God is an ancient path. We can walk on it and find rest for our souls. I know that sounds like an oxymoron since you don’t rest much when you are walking.
        But that’s just it ... we never arrive. I’ll never get “there” but Jesus, who said “come follow me,” wasn’t talking about a destination. He was talking about a path, and it’s the path of Peter and Paul, Martha and Mary. It’s the ancient path so many have walked on before. Just being on the path brings rest for the weary soul.
        Maybe someday I’ll get to hike the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain. In the meantime, it’s my fourth year here on the mountain. I’ve almost finished hiking or biking all 26 miles of the Perimeter Trail. Almost. Last week, I did one of the hardest parts between the Memorial Cross and Morgan’s Steep.
        With our class in mind, I pondered the strange concept of walking on God. If God is the way, the path, the trail, who am I to walk on it?
        Then my mind wandered to the Irish blessing, “may the road rise to meet you.” God does that. That’s grace.




[i] John 14:5
[ii] Matthew 2:12
[iii] Mark 1:3
[iv] Matthew 10:10
[v] Mark Morgan “Roads in Old Testament Times,” Bible Tales, September 17, 2018, found at https://www.bibletales.online/roads-in-oldtestament-times/?doing_wp_cron=1529773596.3647229671478271484375
[vi] Isaiah 62:1
[vii] Isaiah 57:14
[viii] Kayla Gladney, “18-wheeler goes up in flames on I-20/5 9 North in Fairfield,” found at http://www.cbs42.com/news/local/18-wheeler-goes-up-in-flames-on-i-2059-north-in-fairfield/906134781
[ix] Alabama Department of Transportation, “I-59/I-20 Bridge Replacement”, found at https://rp.dot.state.al.us/I59_20/
[x] Michigan Department of Transportation, “MDOT” website, found at https://www.michigan.gov/mdot/0,4616,7-151-9615-129011--,00.html 
[xi] Ibid
[xii] Psalm 5:8
[xiii] “MDOT” website
[xiv] Paul Gillies, “How to Find Ancient Roads,” The Vermont Institute for Government Research Guide(February 2006), found at https://www.uvm.edu/crs/resources/citizens/ancientroads.pdf
[xv] Ibid
[xvi] Ibid