A Wedding Feast
I was in Maine recently, to do a wedding. It was at the Pemaquid Point lighthouse, near Wiscasset and Damariscotta—my first trip there, which is as far up Down East as I’ve ever been. The reception was held in a fancy lobster shack. As we were called to the table, we brought our wineglasses, and were soon passing around breadbaskets and butter plates.
Steve and I introduced ourselves to the people sitting near us, and the woman next to me told about the hike she and her husband did earlier in the day. She described a beautiful trail in a nature preserve, and her mention of walking through stands of fragrant balsam caught my attention. She assured me it wasn’t a difficult trail, and said that it led to the coast where the sea air was fresh and the rocks were gorgeous. The best part, she and her husband agreed, was that taking the trail to the right led to an Osprey nest. She said that if we brought plenty of bug spray and walking shoes we’d have a good time.
Hitting the Trail
The next morning Steve and I found the place, parked, prepared ourselves with bug spray, sunblock, walking shoes and water. There was a kiosk with a sign asking us to write our names in the register and take a map. I picked up a brochure that told about the preserve, but didn’t have a map. I dug through all of them, and found one map—slightly creased—which had obviously been used and returned by someone else; maybe our friends from the wedding party. That was a relief. I am not an experienced hiker and a map was reassuring to me.
We began to walk and, Connecticut native that I am, I immediately recognized we were in second-growth forest. The land had once been the Russell farm, and the evidence was visible in the loosely constructed walls built from stones turned up by the plow. No stonemason would claim them as fine work, but they served to clear and mark the fields. Someone had laid out an easy trail, marked with blazes, fallen trees moved aside. There were places where the trail was muddy, but someone had laid boards over the mud, and build bridges over the streams. We walked through outdoor rooms: clearings, ferny glens, and clusters of balsam trees so fragrant we just stopped to breath and feel the peace.
When we reached a fork in the trail, we checked the map, and remembered we wanted to head to the right. We reached the shore: felt the freshening wind, crabbed up the dramatic rocky crest shaped by primeval glaciers. We stayed there for a while: taking pictures, looking at the passing sailboats, watching the bobbing lobster buoys on the sparkling water. Then we climbed the shore trail to the Osprey nest—the payoff! The nest, built on the poles of dead pines, was bigger than my armspan. The Osprey wheeling around the nest with her large graceful wings, called out in warning or displeasure. The fledgling was on the nest squawking an echo. What a tremendous sight—a vision of wildness and freedom. On the way back, I reflected that the only way we were able to do this hike was because of all the people who had been in the forest. We couldn’t see them now, but they had been there: Farmer Russell who plowed the land and built the walls, the owner who conserved the property and opened it to visitors, the people who built and maintained the trail, the people who told us about it, and the person who put the last map into the box for us to find.
The Seeker’s Journey
It made me think about our life of faith. We are on a journey; we don’t always know where we are going. If we are fortunate we get help and guidance along the way. No matter how prepared we try to be, there are bugs and we traipse through the mud. We need encouragement to keep from turning back. We begin the journey because we have hope. Along the way we even have moments of peace. At key moments, we turn to a map; it might be the Bible, the prayer book, the hymnal—maybe even the Sunday morning service bulletin. We keep going toward a goal, which is fullness of joy—a heart-lifting encounter with Divine Presence. Jesus said:
Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
I don’t know if Farmer Russell had two horses. If he did, he would have yoked them together to the pull the plow when they cleared those fields. I see him steering and guiding them, stopping them to dig out the stones and toss them to the side. Make no mistake, the farmer was working hard too, and the yoking of the team lifted everyone’s burden. The yoke of Jesus is a metaphor of connection to Him, and to our companions on the journey. The yoke is easy and the burden is light because it is shared.
End of the Trail
You may be thinking this is a lot of theology to come out of a two-hour hike in the woods! But let me tell you what sparked it: the place is called the La Verna Preserve. Someone else was thinking about a faith journey–they must have been–when they named it after the place where Francis of Assisi had a vision of Jesus Christ. As we neared the end of the trail, we met other travelers. Some knew the way, and we told them about the Osprey nest. Then we met a family: parents and a couple of teenagers, who were new to the trail. We told them about the Osprey, and then Steve fished the map out of his pocket. “We picked up the last map. Would you like to have it?” They said yes, with evident relief, and took it. The journey started at a wedding feast, where we shared bread and wine with others around a table. Our walk included mud, an Osprey, travelers we could see, and more we couldn’t. Whatever weariness and burden I was carrying fell off me somewhere along the way. It was good for my soul. If you have been on your journey of faith for a while, I offer this experience to you to give you hope, and help you reflect on your trails. If you are a new hiker, I offer it as a slightly creased map to help you find your way.