From the Book of Deuteronomy:
You must follow exactly the path that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you are to possess.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Deuteronomy 5:33 (NRSV) – June 1, 2013.)
Confession: I have never followed any path exactly as it was laid out by anyone . . . even, I’m sure, God. Ever. Could that be why I’ve never lived long in any one place? The longest I ever lived in any place was in an exurban area of Kansas City on the Kansas side of the state line in a house I hated. (It was a split-level; I don’t like split-level homes.) Maybe not following the straight-and-narrow is why I’ve been something of a vagabond; the two do seem to go hand-in-hand.
On the other hand, getting off “the beaten path” leads to wonderful discoveries and unique experiences. A few years ago when traveling Ireland, I decided to visit the Aran Islands. Most tourists head to Inis Mór, the largest of islands, where most ferries from County Galway dock and where Dún Aonghasa is to be found; many go to Inis Oírr, the smallest, where boats from County Clare dock. I chose to go to Inis Meáin, the middle island, the least touristy of the three. There I found An Seipéal Mhuire gan Smál agus Eoin Baiste — the Church of St. Mary Immaculate and St. John the Baptist.
The church is a newer church, built in 1939. I was entranced by stained glass windows which had a most remarkable jewel-like quality with brilliant colors. My poor skills at photography with my inexpensive digital camera couldn’t possible convey the beauty of those windows. I later learned that they were the work of Harry Clarke, considered Ireland’s greatest stained glass artist.
Getting off the well-marked, well-travel road and taking a different path can be dangerous . . . but it can also be marvelous!
In any event, when I read Moses this morning I contrast his words with those of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel (not the gospel lesson for today):
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
The easy road is the one well marked; the hard road to the narrow gate is difficult to find. It is the road less traveled about which Robert Frost wrote in The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Get off the highways! Explore the by-ways . . . they may lead to wonderful discoveries . . . and they may lead to the hard road to the narrow gate, the one few find.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.