This is the 100th post on my blog. It is quite exciting to have reached a tangible milestone such as this (especially after a couple of apathetic periods where I thought I’d struggle to continue at all). Consequently, I have decided to diverge from our usual programming and take a look into the Psalms. I think I may read the entire book of the Psalms in this haphazard manner as I was really yearning for a poetry break after being stuck in historical texts for so long.
If you have never read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, then I suggest you make time to do so soon. It is not a comfortable read. It is certainly not an enjoyable read. But it is a valuable read. In this novel, McCarthy explores the fragile relationships that struggle to continue during the fallout of an apocalypse. The title, The Road, operates not only as a physical road which the characters traverse but also as a powerful metaphor for the influences that conform our choices.
It is interesting when you consider the most pervasive metaphors in our society. Often they’ll give valuable insights into what we culturally value or fear, love or distrust. The metaphor of the road is one such example that is so ubiquitous in our talk that it is ironically difficult not to accidentally drop one in. Ted Conover knows this too well, when interviewed on his latest novel The Routes of Man he quipped, “So essential a part of the human endeavour are roads… that road- and driving-related metaphors permeate our language. Who amongst us hasn’t come to a fork in the road or been tempted by the road to ruin? Speed bumps, in the newspapers, are faced by everyone from Middle East peace negotiators to baseball teams making their way to the playoffs. Leaders who are asleep at the wheel routinely send our enterprises into a ditch”.
As Jacqueline Barba rightly notes, “A road is not just a way of getting from one point to another. It means something more, not only in our everyday vernacular but also in our collective consciousness. The road is an instrument of entry and escape, a means to an end, a symbol of progress. And a winding foreground for drama.” Consequently, it was with great curiosity that I noticed the road metaphor in the very first verse of Psalms 1:
How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers.
How happy is the man who does not… take the path of sinners. This metaphor stuns me as it infers that sin is collective. In contrast I’ve always seen sin as an individual act: I rebel against God. It is a relational issue between two people. Yet the metaphor here infers that sin can create well-worn tracks, paths that others may follow.
Perhaps this concept is better explored by imagining a verdant, untouched forest. The mossy undergrowth is soft and springs underfoot. Through the tree trunks there are many directions you can head in, in fact your options are close to limitless as in each direction the horizon beckons. However, when you closely observe the ground you realise that there is a section of undergrowth more crushed than the rest. Tiny saplings stand slightly more ajar. This pattern appears to continue for many kilometers. Noticing the point of difference in the forest, you choose to follow it.
Now imagine we repeat this process several hundred times. Each time the walker chooses to follow the point of difference. Soon the slightly crushed path becomes a trampled clear-way. Eventually your “many directions” to choose from disappears, because there is a well established path underfoot.
So too, I believe, we can create paths through life. Despite the adventurous options for living life, we shy away from the untamed jungle and huddle on well-worn paths. Consider our education system. Now I am sure there are multiple methods to attaining satisfying employment, yet we are now beginning to insist on not only completing high school, but also university. It seems that the only path-deviation that may occur is a one-year Gap Year before the endurance of several more years of study: no wonder we talk about pathways to success.
Further, I believe we can very much see sinner’s trails in our society. Paths that, once traversed enough become well worn and safe. Worse, become the status quo and unchallenged. There are easy targets to attack here. Pirating copyrighted data is probably more common today than purchasing music in a store – there is a reason you don’t see music stores around anymore. Alcohol and drunkenness have become so acceptable in facets of our society that films like The Hangover infer that your glory days are built upon the stupor of drink and drugs.
There are more difficult issues to discuss here too. Last weekend my wife was talking about a theory that her Youthworks lecture posited in class. Namely, that the cultural norm of the ‘nuclear family’ (a post-industrial revolution creation) takes us away from God’s model of community and poses a tangible challenge to most-effective family ministry. Is it possible that our well traversed path of relying only on our immediate family has insulated us from God’s given family?
Now these are huge issues, and there are many more that I haven’t even raised here. What I think is important is to consider how quickly we normalise these paths we walk. I follow a very standard path of waiting each fortnight for my pay as that moment is when I feel secure for the weeks ahead. What other paths are there that encourage us to diverge from God.
Reassuringly, the psalmist provides a remedy for those who like to stay on problematic paths:
Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.
I don’t know about you, but it can sometimes feel like a burden on my time to be requested to meditate on anything day and night. I am often so hurried and so busy that I can only allocate a handful of minutes to any given task. Perhaps this is another path that I need be wary of. When I think about it, I do meditate on something continually: the wisdom of the world. I absorb ads like a sponge and contribute to the collective consciousness that was referred to earlier. I previously reflected on how the worries of the world are presented as equally troublesome to faith as drunkenness and cavorting.
In this context it makes perfect sense that God’s word would be drowned out. If we add up just our engagement time with God’s word versus the words of the world, I think we’d be mortified. No wonder we are implored to prioritise reflecting on God’s word. No wonder the way of sinners is presented as a path. But nowadays it’d be better represented as a highway.
I don’t want to be like the “chaff that the wind blows away”, caught up in every latest fad; iPad release; get rich quick scheme; half-cooked philosophy. I want to develop deep scriptural roots so I too may be:
Like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season.
I’ve never noticed it before but the inference here is God’s word is as vital to us as water. What’re the stats about how long a man can survive without water? I’m not sure.
I wonder, then, how long we can reasonable expect our faith to last without the refreshment of God’s word?