I read this week about 2 adventurers who walked the longest straight line in the UK without crossing a paved road. The route was designed after a social media challenge was thrown out and the Ordinance Survey experts found that the longest straight line between asphalt roads was a 49 mile stretch from the A9, just north of the Drumochter Pass, to the A939, south of Corgarff in the Cairngorms National park. The couple took 4 days to walk the route as it was incredibly difficult terrain to cover – heather, peaks, troughs, bogs, streams and not always easy weather either.
At the end of the experience, which both adventures vowed they would never attempt again, one said she had learned that the simplest idea – walking in a straight line – wasn’t always the simplest thing to do.
The Bible talks about straight paths. Very well known is the verse in Isaiah quoted in the Gospels:
A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Perhaps less well known is a verse from Proverbs:
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Isaiah encourages us to make ourselves ready for the coming of the Lord, to clear the path and make sure that his arrival cannot be impeded by a difficult curving path. Proverbs turns this round and says that if we acknowledge God then our paths will be made straight and easy-running.
Both verses assume however that generally the road is not straight and the path not smooth. Most of us can describe times in our lives when our path of life has felt bumpy, tortuous even, one where the way ahead is not clear, where we can’t see round the corners and when just moving forward at all seems really difficult. Hopefully we have also experienced times when things have been going well, where decisions come easily and succesfully and when we can feel a sense of order and purpose.
I wonder if one were to plot the good times and those bad times against how you felt in your relationship with God what correlation there would be between having a rocky time and feeling far from God?
At the moment the church is facing a path that seems pretty bumpy and bendy. In our task of making a straight path in the wilderness for God’s kingdom it can feel like we are struggling to find and map that straight path, never mind walking it. This is where taking the long view can help us. Over our long history as a faith and as a denomination there have been bumpy times and rough patches. It has not felt like walking a straight path between Jesus’ time on earth and Jesus’ second coming. The church has definitely walked down some cul-de-sacs, made mis-turns and seemingly strewn boulders in front of its own path at times.
This bendy windy path has shaped the church, honed it, altered it, forced it sometimes to look up and try and see the path again and we are still here. A bit battered and bruised but still going. It is an interesting question for our generation – do we accept that times around us are hard for a faith community but that we have weathered difficult times before and we will weather these times too. We need to hold our nerve and stay faithful to what we do. Or do we need to say – we’ve veered off the straight path and need to change course to get back to it. Everyone has their own opinion on this of course as they will have done for many generations.
For me its about a partnership between Isaiah and Proverbs. If we play our part in trying to ensure the highway of the Lord is open, free running and presents no barriers or stumbling blocks to those who wish to walk along it, then we are basically saying we acknowledge God in all our doings. When we do this, then God will make our paths straight. It may not always feel like it, and we can of course get bogged down or distracted, but with the strength of a faith community where there will always be someone who has the eye for the path ahead even if others are struggling, it is a path we can create and walk ourselves.