Learning to Drive

Warning: This blog is not about driving a motor vehicle.

I have a confession to make. I have no idea what I was thinking — or if I was even thinking — when I chose the title for this blog. It popped into my head and from my head to my fingers poised and ready on the keyboard of my laptop. Thought — written word.

For a second or two, I was channeling Donald Trump, trying to walk in his shoes. I’ve heard you shouldn’t judge someone until you’ve walked in their shoes, so I thought I’d try that approach to understanding the reality show star Americans have chosen to be POTUS. A second or two was about as much as I could handle. As soon as I committed myself by typing a few words, the portion of my brain not included in this experiment said, “Hold it! You were planning to write about Scripture. You looked through the list Arla sent you and chose Scripture. What does driving have to do with Scripture?”

Nothing. Driving has absolutely nothing to do with Scripture, except perhaps   metaphorically. Driving is about change, about changing your location, about getting from Point A to Point B. In the broadest sense, Scripture also is about change, about helping us to get from this earthly life to an afterlife that is desirable — heaven.

However, to read the Word of God with only that goal in mind deprives us of a greater change that can occur in our lives right here and right now. Our hard hearts can be softened in the warm light of God’s Word. Our recalcitrant minds can become amenable to new ways of experiencing life if the seeds of God’s Word begin to shape our mental pathways. We can become new creatures. We can be born again, born of the Spirit, which Jesus told Nicodemus was essential to seeing the Kingdom of God (John 3:1-6).

Various Christian denominations and sects have different ways of explaining what it means to be born again. I don’t know that there is only one explanation; I tend to think that God speaks to each of us with a voice we can hear and understand, one which resonates within us as true. That being said, I also think we must remember who creates and recreates.  One of my favorite passages from Isaiah lays it out plainly: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland rivers” (43:18-19, NAB).

God does the new thing within us. God makes a way in the desert of our hate and our judgmental attitudes and everything that drives us apart from one another. God causes rivers of mercy and justice and love to flow through the wasteland of destruction that arises out of our inability to see others as fellow sons and daughters of an ever-living, ever-loving God.

God does this. He does it one person at a time, one heart, one mind at a time. But he needs a tool, and Scripture is that tool. I think that if we start — preferably with one of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark or Luke) — to read just a little each day, and if we allow those words to settle within us like a gentle rain on parched earth, we will find that we move from wherever we are right now to a place of greater compassion, greater kindness, greater wisdom and more peace. We will experience the miracle of being reborn, of feeling God’s living waters flow through us into the world.

And then, if we’re lucky, the words that pop into our heads and come out will be words that drive away evil and build up the Kingdom of God in this world.


The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

     “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” I was in fifth grade when I first read that line, that poem by Robert Frost. Miss Gross had arranged our desks so that our backs were to the windows — probably to prevent us from becoming distracted when the younger students were outside for recess. She was not the only teacher who chose that option.
     The classroom was a familiar one to me. When my family moved to the small rural community, I was entering first grade, and that room had been the one in which my class met. The year I entered fourth grade, an addition to the school was built, the classrooms were reconfigured and that became the fifth grade classroom. Later, a second addition was constructed to house the music department, gym and lunchroom, which caused the classrooms to be reconfigured yet again, and I attended junior high and high school classes in that room.
      But the later experiences didn’t erase fifth grade from memory. We had an aquarium, and did scratch drawings with crayons and India ink, and I first heard the poem that would shape in some ways my approach to life. I didn’t understand the walk in the woods as a metaphor for life then. I remember wondering why the guy wouldn’t go back  if he enjoyed the walk. I remember Miss Gross explaining that in life we can’t go back and make different decisions. I remember puzzling over this for a long time — not just in class, but walking home, and as I lay in bed that night and other nights.
“Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.”
      Few who know me have not heard me say “way leads to way,” my paraphrase of the closing lines of the third stanza. It’s the way I explain my life with its odd twists and turns. Way leads to way. I went to college because it was expected, not because I had any sense of what I might like to do with my life; went crazy for a while, not because chaos suited my temperament but because I was thrown into an unfamiliar world with no coping mechanisms or decision-making skills; went into therapy because I had an earnest desire to still the chaos and to live more mindfully. I tried on a variety of roles over the years, some because I was attracted to them, others because I wanted people I loved to be proud of me. Each decision took my life in a new direction; way leads to way; each decision shaped me in the way a painter creates an image on canvas, building upon the underlying layers. Bit by bit, I got better at decision-making, and bit by bit, I made peace with the poor decisions I had made, the decisions which turned me aside from my true self, even the painful ones.
      That’s the piece of the life puzzle that I missed for a very long time — the piece that Frost didn’t include in his poem. In choosing, we must not only consider the path, but we must also consider ourselves. We must consider what is in our hearts and what ignites our imagination. We must consider what grounds us, what enables us to feel the earth beneath our feet, but also lifts our spirits so that we soar with joy — not happiness, joy!
      I suspect I needed all of the twists and turns to find my true self. The seeds were in my childhood — I see them: the way I was hurt when my mother wouldn’t put my pictures on the refrigerator (art), my innocent piety which concerned my mother as I entered adolescence (my relationship with God), the attention I gave to everything I wrote from school papers to letters (writing). Perhaps different choices at pivotal junctures may have helped me to find my true self earlier, but perhaps not. Perhaps if I had gone to Mount Marty College or Presentation College instead of a state university, I might have learned to live my life from a spiritual center when I was younger. However, since motherhood helped me to understand God’s love for us, I may never have experienced the intimacy with God that I know now.
     At this point in my life, I’ve come to think of those seeds evident in childhood as being like the pine cones of the lodge pole pine, which need fire to release the seeds for germination. I needed the fire of mistakes and failure to burn away all that is not true in me, all that does not reflect the person God created me to be. I needed heartbreak and loss, disappointments and betrayal, loneliness and poverty. The journey has not been an easy one; I’m not sure it’s one I would have chosen or wished on anyone else, but like Frost’s narrator, I find myself thinking, “I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”
      Yes, way leads to way, and the way of my life has led me here, now, to this place and to this time. As my fingers strike this keyboard, only one thought runs through my mind: “It is good.”