“Of all the paths in life you take, make sure a few of them are dirt.” -John Muir
It’s easiest to feel compelled by these words when we’re out adventuring. Dusty dirt seems just right when summiting a mountain peak on a misty morning or even meandering on a sandy shoreline in the dark of night waiting for the excitement of a new moon to appear. Our souls sigh contentedly in those moments. Yet, when the dirt of the earth seems to have invaded our innermost parts, when our bodies ache from the wear of the paths of this life, our souls ache too. We begin to remember how we came from dirt, and how we’ll return.
The harmony between body and soul reflecting the image and unity of our Creator is easiest to recognize and appreciate in a flow state, where skills attained rise to meet challenges met, where ease and the pleasure of the desires of our heart are realized. Yet in the space of tension, the adventure often becomes lost on us. Dirt paths no longer feel like the possibilities of misty mysteries awaiting, nor exciting in any measure. Instead life can feel like it has slowed to a grueling rusty crawl—no matter how busy we are.
When we are showing up in life it often feels most like this right before we’re about to hit a flow state (though we don’t know it yet). The place where we feel the frustration of learning how to harmonize and work within all the parts of us will be some of the most difficult days of our lives. It’s essential for us to hearten one another with truth and courage, but so often we’re barely holding on to remember it ourselves.
How do we find our way back to these truths and the wonder of it all again? What, more, if we’ve never known the wonder of wild freedom and hope in our bones—only burden, guilt, shame, a sense of lack, or hopelessness? How do we discern if we are ignoring that hope exists as a protective barrier or if it’s safe…to hope?
How do we wake from a place where dirt simply seems like dirt and remind ourselves of what we’ve forgotten…the story of how humankind was made from dirt, the earth, brought to life by The Breath?
What would it cost us if we forgot forever? What could we gain if we remember?
The strain of the mystery is sure. But.
“To ignore the paradox is to miss the truth.”
-Abraham Joshua Heschel, Israel: An Echo of Eternity
I know the pain of paradox the way we often have to travel far from what we know and the places we feel at ease and comfortable in life in hope to return and find home again, or maybe in some ways for the first time. Some days, when this challenges me, I remember how the prophet Isaiah once asked concerning the space of suffering, “Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?!”
I figure if such a great poet, who got to be the mouthpiece of the King of the Universe articulated these kinds of questions, we should too. The confusion is spoken boldly, and yet a subtle delight is also present. What if freedom in asking our questions unlocks some of that delight?
It takes vision to gird our minds with the hospitality needed to welcome questions… questions that could lead to insight into the hidden hope within our suffering. This is counter-cultural at best and counter-intuitive at worst! We need to help and invite each other into and through these spaces.
Choosing to hope that a destiny of goodness in the land of the living waits for us to taste and see—even when all other evidence speaks to our fears of giants in the land—is not easy.
The ancients speak of following the Messiah “outside of the camp” in order to come close to the heart of the Father, in order to come home in the truest sense. In His light, our feet—following dusty paths—can find balance even in a world of paradox. In His light, balance becomes less about holding all the “right things” and rather a whole lot more about being held, companioned, with.
Maybe that’s the good John Muir really knew about dirt paths—they are humble ways. Lord have mercy, it takes humility to be held. But what if we let ourselves be…held?…until we learn how to hold? What if dirt paths never look like anything other than dirt paths but everything changes because of Who we’re with? What if in the simple realization that we’re not alone we begin to grasp the unity of our Creator who designed and knows how to bring all things into harmony? Once, He brought breath to dirt and He wants to do so again.
To be continued tomorrow… (Read Part 2, here)!