“Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies, and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.'” (Jer. 6:16)
How many crossroads have we stood at in our personal lives? Reflect on a few of them. What direction did you take? What convinced or guided you to take that direction? Do you ever look back and wonder where you might be if you had taken a left instead of a right? Then join the human race. Crossroads can be tricky.
We are in a season of crossroads and making choices. The United States will have a new president in January, and we will choose whether or not to support him. Hopefully, vaccinations for Covid-19 will become available as people choose between taking them or not. Christians are at the crossroads of Advent, a time of waiting, or a time of rushing. I am at my own personal crossroads as I leave pastoral ministry for the ministry of writing. How do we navigate which way to go?
God the Creator and designer of crossroads speaks through the prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament of the Bible and instructs us to “ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies.” How often do we consider “ancient paths”? Out with the old, in with the new is our typical practice. But something resonates within me when I reflect on “ancient paths.” The image of a cairn appears, built by someone who has gone before to direct someone coming from behind. In the darkness and waning of this present year, with all its many challenges, wounds, revelations and sorrows, I wonder if we can consider who, or where, the cairns are in our own journeys.
Scripture and holy writings from whatever faith traditions contain many cairns and crossings. I think of Eve and all the blame and shame she has shouldered for thousands of years simply for wanting to know, for being curious, for taking a risk. Yes, she lost her innocence, but she gained the fullness of experience, both joy and sorrow, both delight and hardship, that transformed her into someone real. Eve embodies much wisdom about crossroads.
Poetry is another place to seek the cairns who know about ancient paths. Mary Oliver comes to mind and her reliance on the guidance of nature that never disappointed her in the personal directions she chose. Authors and musicians and artists of all types who have walked the path before us lend us their guidance, if we want it. If we listen for it.
For me, Advent and the closing of this year offer us the invitation to ponder whose cairns we are following as we stand at the crossroads of a new year. What ancient wisdom is right there, waiting for us to embrace us, to walk in it, to find rest for our souls in this season of waiting?
Oh, I should mention that this particular passage of scripture ends with this response: “But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.'” Crossroads are tricky places and guides don’t force themselves on us. We have a choice to accept the invitation, or not.
Beginning November 29, the first Sunday of Advent, I will be inviting you to join me as we walk on ancient paths and seek ancient wisdom and listen to those guides both within us and without, that will lead us to—if not rest for our souls—a place of sanctuary as we journey toward the Light.