Being outside, walking through a wood, or along a beach and allowing God to speak through these things is something that I do. Usually it’s more to do with stirring up a poem than a parable, and more recently it’s about trying to earn a few Scottish Slimmers “checkercise” points having eaten too much cake, or wolfed down a sharing sized packet of crisps without the sharing part happening.
Yesterday I purposely parable-walked along part of the South Loch Ness Trail. It’s not an ancient path. It’s possible that some form of the path existed ages ago, and just maybe St Columba trod the forest trail in his journey from Iona to Inverness.
Armed with sturdy trainers, a notebook and pen and a copy of the instructions I headed off, stopping off every so often to list the things my senses detected.
Tall trees, straight trunks swayed above my head. Shrubs, ferns and thick bunches of flowers and moss covered fallen logs bordered the path. Pine cones were scattered everywhere, open and empty of seeds. A few lines from a Martin Luther King Speech came to mind
"If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. But be the best little shrub on the side of the hill. Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are."
The route was marked by posts. It’s always nice to feel secure that you are on the right path. One part of the walk takes in a minor road and a hill into another patch of forest. It’s a long stretch without any posts. It was easy to convince myself that I had somehow come off the path. Passing beside a couple of houses, a barn, a field or two of crops, a tumble of stones, a field of horses, and climbing a steep hill that became less of a minor road and more of a grassy path I saw the marker post in the distance.
A couple of bike riders erupted from the path and wheeled down the hill gleefully. They were the first people I had seen. The parable walking sheet had said that it could be a communal thing – walking together, in silence, then comparing notes at the end. There were prayers to be said and readings to read aloud – but I skipped that. I like my own company, my own pace of walking and the conversation I have in my head.
The wind was quite brisk. I stopped to admire a tall tree with branches and leaves that bent with the wind. I took on a tree-bending-with-the-wind pose and felt a little silly. It was Theresa May who came to mind this time. I thought about how difficult the last week has been for her and the barbs in the newspapers I have read. There may be a time for being strong and safe but there’s also a time to bend. Without the bending comes brokenness. Bending is not compromising. I might not be a people person either, but I’m not a prime minister, I don’t need to turn up and give comfort to survivors but I would have done. She needed to and didn’t.
I made it to the marker post, looked at my watch and the grey clouds gathering. I had walked further than I intended to. Turning around I retraced my steps. Why is it that the homeward journey always seems to take less time?
I stopped beside the field of horses. Had I been my sister I would have made encouraging clucking noises and held out a hand. The horses would have recognised a friend and ambled over. She would have said, “Who’s a lovely boy?” and they would have exchanged mobile phone numbers. I am not my sister.
I was back in the forest, It was a quiete, peaceful place. I daresay it’s not so peaceful with one bug eating another and plant life jostling over ground for sun-space, and underground for root-space. The trees had enough room to grow. It was a managed forest – some trees felled to give others the room they needed. I thought about my life and whether it was managed enough. Was there too much crowding going on? Did I need to get rid of a few things to allow the planting of new stuff?
I have often had a picture, on various forest walks, of Jesus walking beside me. He would stop at one particular tree and run His hand down the trunk, feeling the contours. He would look upwards, shield his eyes perhaps from the sun, and notice the absence of branches most of the way up and top of the tree with “beanie hat” of life. He would remind me that He was once a carpenter.
“This is a lovely tree,” He’d say. “So straight and tall! What could I do with the wood from this tree? I could make a door or a table. I could frame a window or make a shelf. I could make a baby’s crib or a boat with it. I would craft it to my purpose, smooth it down, polish it and run my finger along the clear grain.”
He didn’t say it, but I knew that he wouldn’t make it into a cross to nail someone to it. The picture usually stops at that point.
Yesterday, I had that same picture and conversation. Then came the next part of the conversation.
He’d touched my arm, and look into my eyes.
“This is a wonderful woman,” He’d say. “So upright and full of integrity! What could I do with a woman like her? I could make a teacher or a preacher. I could make a prophet or a healer. I could make a warrior and a worshipper. So much I could do but I choose to make her a poet and through her words she is all of them. I will craft her to my purpose, smoothe and polish her and as I run my finger along her clear grain I cannot help but smile.”
What a conversation to have!