Someone sent me an invitation. Actually, it was a challenge; to spend 5 minutes a day giving my full attention to God. 5 minutes seemed like a doable period of time and since the challenger suggested having that “God time” while taking a walk, I headed out on the trail with my dog, confident that we would encounter someone or something that would lead us in the right direction.
As anyone who tries to pay attention knows, 5 minutes, whether walking or reading or sitting in silence is actually an interminably long time. But if you believe that God yearns to be with us as much and even more than we yearn to hang out with God, you won’t be surprised that God showed up just as we got on the trail.
The first thing that got my attention was a tree, cracked and leaning toward the trail. The break did not seem deadly but it was clear to me that while today the trail was a clear path, it might have been otherwise and someday it will be. I thought about Jane Kenyon’s powerful poem Otherwise and how she too went woods walking with her dog one day.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
Later in the afternoon I got a voicemail from our town librarian. She was asking if I had any words of advice to pass back to a woman who has landed in our town and was searching for a place to lay her head. My first thought was to skip over the message and walk on in my day. Have a cup of coffee. Enjoy the view of the river. Or maybe take a nap. Sometimes I cannot bear what must be borne.
And then I remembered the snapped but not fallen tree next to the trail and how this morning I was able to walk on with my dog without worry about the tree crashing down on us. And how it could have been otherwise. I remembered that Jane Kenyon ends her poem, like this:
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.
I heard in the voicemail that it was “otherwise” for someone today. I walked to the library and found that the woman had walked away from the library and into town. Out of sight but not out of mind for me or the librarians. We talked about resources that might make a difference if she comes back. An overnight shelter. A bus ride to get there. One of the librarians thought she could drive her to the shelter. None of us said what we all knew; that these resources, it they were even available, might not be right or enough.
Then I walked home and thought about the invitation I received this morning and how all day long God was searching my heart. I thought about how easy it is to walk on, or delete messages, or turn on another trail, one that looks safe and clear. How hard it is to pay attention. Even for 5 uncomfortable minutes.
Today I brushed up against a cracked tree and heard a word that stayed with me and called me back and reminded me that I have chosen to live in a community that is small enough to know who the pastor is and who the librarians are and that we are all called to be responsive. The truth is that I am sometimes a very reluctant pastor. The Good News is that God abides in me and keeps inviting me even when I shy away.
It is getting dark. I wonder. Where is that woman spending the night?