“Devil’s Backbone Trail?” I smirked to myself. How strange the ink read on the church bulletin, announcing the hike. “How ironically appropriate.”
A gentle wind scurries past us at the trail head, whispering rumors of spring. She stirs drowsy-eyed in a valley that is barely awake. We tread lightly, least we summon the slumbering rattlesnakes coiled in their dens.
Life emerges slowly here from the death that winter brings. My eyes trace the smooth contours of the foothills, but they are rudely interrupted by the Devil’s Backbone. It pierces the sky, and something inside of me too. My soul shivers at the craggy-rock vertebrae, and what it presides over. Here the path diverges. One way, well-worn and wide. The other, rocky, steep and narrow.
It reminds me that we all must chose.
I’m no stranger to the wide-open highways. I’ve taken more than a few detours on them, with their Starbucks, indoor plumbing, and sexy billboards. They mock the narrower roads for their thorny shrubs, steep inclines and lack of porcelain toilets (sorely missed among poison ivy). Despite their luxuries, my jaunts on these freeways brought anything but freedom. They led me to dead ends and then abandoned me there.
My heart sinks with the sun, slumping towards the horizon. It sinks for those I love whose footsteps fall on wider ways now. I see my own scars, and feel the sting of unintended consequences, shattered relationships, and regret. Like snakes in the grass, they lie in wait for them as they did for me.
I wonder how to love these wanderers well in their wandering, how to walk alongside when their roads bend wide.
When His Word become just words.
When the wounded numb pain by inflicting it.
When a daughter’s loneliness prods her into arms that hold more still.
When a son chooses pig’s feed over a place at the table.
Pig’s feed. How do we meet with the pain of that?
Do we pass by, and tiptoe to the other side lest our presence imply approval? Maybe we block the road with signs and noisy exhortations (as higher decibels almost always prompt repentance. . .) Perhaps we remain silent, and just pretend that all roads eventually lead us home. Would not confrontation birth alienation? Who are we to judge their travels anyway?
I grieve for the times I’ve pushed each of these questions past the rhetorical. With only good intentions, I created a string of slow-motion car crashes, wounding many.
But here in the shadow of Devil’s Backbone, I remember another path and another way.
I remember Jesus, who breathed the dust of the Emmaus Road. Resurrected and unrecognized, He joined two of His own. They journeyed from Jerusalem, dizzy and downtrodden from the days before. Their hope of Israel’s redemption was crucified on a tree. Their world was shaken, like the ground of Golgotha; their presumptions torn apart with the Temple Veil. Their hearts felt as hard and empty as their rabbi’s tomb.
Who wouldn’t take a safer, wider road after that?
Jesus joined them still, choosing to walk in the middle of their doubt. He didn’t force His way in, or meet them with a holy picket line. He commenced with a question, and then another. He listened— slow to speak—to these “slow of heart.” *
Then, He spoke the truth.
He illuminated the Scriptures to them. It seared their hearts and unwrapped their unbelief. This brought invitation, not alienation: At their journey’s end, Jesus joined them at the Emmaus table. He broke the bread, giving it to them as He gave His own body days before. Their eyes instantly opened, and they saw their Lord.
How do we walk alongside, when roads bend wide?
I’m not sure I know.
Ash-colored clouds hang over the Backbone valley. They cloak the sun, and I see only dimly.
I’ll never fill the sandals of my Savior-King. I am neither. But in my own stumbling way I trace His footsteps on the Emmaus Road, where He met those He loved in their wandering, just as He met me.
Lord, may we see You—eyes opened and hearts burning—somewhere along the way.