Good Zeal

Journeying

Red Mountain Park trailMy younger sister, Martha, visited recently from Florida. We love to find things to do outdoors on these visits. One beautiful autumn day, we went out to Red Mountain Park to walk the forested trails. When I visit Martha, we drive to a beach or walk in her neighborhood, completely flat and familiar terrain. Red Mountain Park trails, over 1500 wooded acres, are more challengingly hilly and unfamiliar.

Before we set off on our journey, I printed the park website’s map. Unfortunately, it was a quite small map for two pairs of aging eyes. The color coded and numbered trails were sometimes difficult to distinguish. The connectors between the trails, unclear. Undaunted, the dynamic duo agreed on a direction to begin and proceeded with confidence on our great adventure together.

As I said, it was a most glorious day! Colorful leaves of all shapes and sizes cascaded down and twirled around us in the breeze, adding to the autumn-colored carpet beneath our feet. We were careful to look down as much as up to avoid tripping on the uneven floor of rocks and roots. Occasionally we stopped to try to spot a singing bird. Martha can better match bird songs with the correct birds. I was captivated by the variety of fungi growing on fallen trees along the path. I wish I’d brought my mushroom identifier book! We wracked our brains for the names of the great variety of trees. Is that a hickory…. Shagbark or Shellbark? This experience of engaging the senses in the serene beauty and quiet of the woods was energizing. Too bad there weren’t more people there to enjoy it – we hardly saw a soul. But it was a weekday, workday morning for many.

Periodically, we reached forks in the path. These were well marked, initially. Wooden posts inscribed with arrows pointed toward color-coded names and numbers of trails and connectors. Occasionally, a trail number appeared reassuringly on a tree along the path. Let me pause to explain that Martha and I are both exceptionally directionally-challenged. At this point in life, both of us should have had a compass chip embedded in or discretely visible on our bodies.

The longer we walked, the fewer signs. We reached several trail forks with no directional posts or other informational signage. No person in sight to ask. Out came the map which we both studied, clueless, of course! We disagreed on where we were on the map (as clueless but self-assured people do). Eventually we made a decision and pursued it. After a couple of hours when we were both tired, we finally reached a color-coded sign. It declared that we were not, as hoped, headed in the direction of returning us to my car in the near future. When you must turn around and backtrack, you do see things that you missed the first time around.

As I have reflected on and laughed at our fun day with its misadventures, I see life parallels. Martha and I have both faced many forks in the roads of our lives. Those who previously traveled the path (parents, wise elders and teachers, the Church, etc.) gave us good directions so that we knew – more or less – we were on the right path. Sometimes we were not equipped with good maps, misinterpreted or ignored them. Other times, distracted, we walked blindly past helpful directional signs. In our separate journeys, we have both reached disappointing, sometimes heartbreaking dead ends. Life doesn’t let us backtrack, though. But God does provide mercy, courage, hope, and perseverance to select another route and start again.

At Red Mountain Park, Martha and I stayed together on the trail, even if one of us goofed about the direction. How silly if we had parted ways when we disagreed, when the point was to enjoy the day together. A Benedictine monastic community of fallible individuals will occasionally disagree when faced with a fork in the road. We trust our group wisdom because we trust God’s wise guidance discerned amid diversity. We have chosen to journey together as a community rather than follow individual, separate paths. The point is that we walk together. Loving, honoring, encouraging and learning from one another along the way brings great joy as we journey together toward our heavenly home.

By Sister Sara Aiden Burress, OSB

Photo by Anne S. Napier

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