A path already laid
Over the last couple of years, I have felt a shift in my faith that has caught me off guard. Last year a phrase that I have used at the top of my website came to me as I submitted this shift to God in prayer as I tried to understand what was happening.
"Pioneering a well-worn path"
This feeling first came from my study of church history in seminary, and then through reading sermons and journals from preachers that have been dead for over 200 years. The heart of this feeling is that in the Christian faith, our personal experience is not all that personal…or unique. I know some wouldn’t like that I don’t think everyone is special and unique, but I sincerely feel that the number of truths that transcend personality and personhood have begun to outweigh my desire for individuality. My confidence is moving away from what I know to what the church collective knows.
I doubt that idea is clear, so let me put it this way. I sincerely doubt that my faith journey hasn’t been done before. Each step I take in my faith, each piece of theology I come to understand, every Bible study that I lead, it has all been done before. And that isn’t a reason to feel that I am unproductive citizen of the kingdom of God, but that I am discovering for myself the truth that God has revealed to his people over the centuries…and that is something to take joy in.
Now, the backside of this heart shift is that even though I have accepted the well-worn path, this is not an escape from spirit-led discovery. Rediscovering truth requires work because time and context often disguises the heart of what we are getting at here. The path that the saints have paved is often overgrown and has become dull in color from the years of exposure to the elements.
This truth has become all the more clear in my role of associate pastor of church that has been around for well over 100 years. Every time I think up some new idea for a program or event, I am met with memories from the congregation of that time they did exactly what I have proposed 30 or 40 years ago. It’s actually astounding how little I am capable of inventing as pastor and because of my shift in faith towards this big idea that I am simply pioneering a well-worn path, I find comfort in that fact. I am not here to make something new up, but to resurface it for a new context, a new day.
Yesterday, in a small way I was reminded of this while I did some yardwork. Our house was built in 1895 and has some beautiful river rock pathways across the backyard. They have fallen into disrepair from years of use and some stones that you thought would be there were just plain missing. So I went about straightening the pathway and adding some stones. I laid out where I wanted the stone and went about digging the holes that would keep them.
Overall I was adding six new stepping stones to the path. And as I began to dig each of those holes, my shovel was met with a ting that let me know I was hitting rock. I discovered that this path that I thought I had so cleverly designed…already existed. In the exact spot that I was digging for each of these stones there was already another in it it’s place just a few inches under the surface. My job stopped being inventor and became restorer.
Yet again, I was merely pioneering a well-worn path.