The little town of Erwin, TN has what it calls a “Linear Trail” which runs parallel to, and between, I-26 and the railroad tracks. It variously skirts the edge of an industrial park, borders a neighborhood, goes along open pasture, and, most beautifully, meanders near wetlands, ponds, and the Nolichucky River. One of the parking areas for this trail is close to the local McDonald’s, an ironic and jarring juxtaposition of “corporate” and “natural” cultures.
I walked that trail recently and, in those stretches which make their way through the woods, close to water, and in the open valley, I caught sight of wonders: two hawks doing a joyful ballet high in the sky, cardinals flying like trapeze artists from tree to tree, deer drinking from and then dashing through the shallows of a creek, tiger lilies and honeysuckle in fragrant bloom, and a group of ducks perched in a line on a nearly submerged log (I thought, briefly, they looked like the disciples in da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”).
I was walking, as I often do, with questions and prayers. My life has been in such upheaval and transition over the last year and a half, and I feel keenly the need and opportunity to refashion my response to God’s calling to me as a human being and as a minister. What I saw and heard assured me that, even when answers are distant, God is not.
Most often, the trains on the tracks near Erwin are from CSX, the company which includes the old C&O RR for which my grandfather worked. As the trains lumbered nearby, I was carried back to trips to the “shop” where he prepared for the workweek ahead. Our talks on those trips shape me in ways I continue to discover. His tender-strength and folk wisdom still challenge me.
Though it was a dove which descended on Jesus in the river as a sign of the Spirit, cardinals have been significant for my awareness of God since I was a little boy.
The deer reminded me of my thirst for God: “As the deer. . . so my soul.”
Cars raced down the adjacent highway, and I realized, anew, that peace is often just next door to the noise of hurry and busyness.
A couple was out walking their old, small and fluffy dog who walked with a noticeable limp. The dog struggled to keep up, but it was clear, in the way dogs make things clear, that this walk was sheer delight.
Like the old dog and, even more, like Jacob who wrestled with God and won because he lost, I too walk with a limp these days. My experience has knocked me out of joint in ways that have permanently changed me.
But, along the trail, there are wonders through which God speaks. Maybe I can learn not just to walk, but to dance, with a limp and with love and delight.