I hike a lot, and have a fairly good sense of direction, so I rarely get lost. The times I have been lost were memorable. All my skills failed me and suddenly I felt a strong sense of danger. This picture was taken from the parking lot where I set out on a hike along a creek in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. From here, I hiked down to the creek, which I followed. There were no real trails. The scenery was beautiful, the weather was perfect, and I had a great day.
Setting out, I failed to take note of the fact that the parking area sat right at a fork where the creek split. I went in on the fork to the right and came out on the fork to the left. While I should have been retracing my steps, I began to realize that I did not recognize where I was. I began to have doubts, but kept walking. Then I realized that the water was flowing the wrong direction. Now I knew I was not where I was supposed to be. But how did I go wrong? And how do I get back? My anxiety level began to rise precipitously.
Reflecting on this experience I find it corresponds to our life with God, or, more properly, our life away from God. We can have a great time for a while. Life can be beautiful. But at some point we recognize that something is not quite right. We have taken a wrong turn. Sometimes a certain event clearly marks the point we went astray, but more often the misdirection has been slow and subtle. We start to worry and wonder how to get back. Usually we become increasingly anxious and even fearful. Our country seems infected with this fear. We are in danger.
At some point I stopped and was studying my map. Suddenly I heard–the voices of children playing. I have never been so happy to hear another human voice. I hiked up the bank from where I was on the creek bottom. The kids were there with their dad, relaxing and enjoying the day. Right on the side of the the road. We chatted a bit and he told me which direction to go to get back to my car, which was not far.
I had never been far from the road, but I could not see that from where I was at the creek. So it is when we wander from God. We are probably not as far away as we think we are. But often, in our blindness, we need someone to help us find the way back.
O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, 218)