“How can we know the way?”
This is the question that is asked of Jesus this week in the gospel lesson.
When I was little, maybe four or five, my mother took me to the University of Alberta (UofA) for “an appointment.” We met a kind woman there who took my mother, sister and me on what felt like a long walk through the UofA campus. At one point, she just stopped and looked at me and asked, “Erik, do you think you can find your way back to the office?”
So I started leading our little posse back to the office where we had first met this nice woman. I know that I made a few wrong turns along the way, but I eventually figured out our way back to the office. All along the way, I remember the woman asking me questions about why I had chosen the path I was taking, landmarks I was using, my sense of direction, etc….
Years later when I recalled the experience to my mother, she told me that I was part of a study about directional sense in children. There were three groups. The first group was told they were going for a walk and would need to find their way back. They’re also given help and hints as they led their way back. The second group was told about the walk and the need to navigate their way back, but were given no help once they started to lead the way. The third group – the group I was in – were not given any notice about the task nor given any help finding our way back.
I think both the kind researcher and my mother were surprised that I found my way back to the starting place. And in fact, my whole life I have been blessed with a pretty good sense of direction. I can find my way in new cities, find my way between towns out in the country, and navigate airports, malls or other large buildings pretty well. I even had a better sense of the horse trails around Wilderness Ranch (in the foothills of Southern Alberta) after a few weeks than some other staff who had been riding them for years.
My good directional sense has been a blessing in other areas of my life, giving me the confidence to trust that most of my decisions will get me to where I am trying to go, whether it is personally, in my family life or in ministry.
Now, my point here isn’t to brag. And in fact, my good directional sense has limits. Most cities I have figured out in a few days, but Winnipeg has felt like it has taken years to get straight (unnumbered streets that are named seemingly randomly, few roads that actually run true North-South/East-West, big thoroughfares that just end, streets that just change names, quaint little side streets that are actually main traffic arteries….) Don’t get me started on Winnipeg’s utterly confusing city design!
But rather, my point is that we are like the disciples, who are asking Jesus “How can we know the way?” We wish that the path to find our way through ministry as a church, and in life in general, had a kind researcher reminding us to make note of landmarks as we travel, and gently correcting us when we make a wrong turn. Yet, we usually encounter the other experiences of not even knowing that we are getting lost or not knowing where we are going until someone turns to us and says, “Do you think you can find your way back from here?”
And when we are navigating blind, we don’t really know if we have taken the right paths and made the right choices until we get to where we are going. Providing a map, or turn-by-turn directions, or a guide we can hold onto, is not what Jesus is about though. Instead, Jesus has a very different idea of what it means to navigate our way down life’s paths and what it means for us to know the way.
So… “How can we know the way?”
What that is, is something you will have to come on Sunday to hear more about. I hope to see you there.