Changed Conditions Ahead

After a recent session with my spiritual director, I decided to take the long way home, to have time to think and unwind, so I explored some Sonoma County roads I hadn’t gone down before. I took a road that wound past dairy farms with Holsteins grazing on lush green grass, and past apple orchards in their full-blooming glory. Then I took a more familiar road, the one that climbs up out of Occidental, towards the ocean. I know this road, so it evoked memories of many trips over the past decades. In fact, just when I was thinking that this road feels like an old friend, I came upon a huge yellow caution sign:



I laughed. I’d chosen that road because I’d enjoyed driving it before. I like where it goes and what I see along the way. I like the particular places where the pavement is uneven, where the road narrows and winds through redwoods, climbs up to the bluff above the ocean. But—changed conditions? What changed conditions? 

And after that spiritual direction conversation, this sign struck me as being about more than road conditions. It matched what we’d been talking about. My spiritual life has seemed pretty sedate and well-traveled, familiar, until now. 

What I noticed was that the road trip suddenly got more interesting. I had to slow down and pay attention. The pavement had collapsed on one side; that part of the road was completely gone. And that has happened in my life, from time to time, including in my spiritual life. The old ways can collapse. Old bridges can vanish, be dismantled piece by piece. Even if I wanted to go my old way, that is no longer possible. 

Slowing down, having to stop for a while, gave me time to sit and listen, to reflect and to decide: Do I want to go on even if the way is unfamiliar and may be difficult? Is this the right road, or a right road, one on which a journey can be blessed if God so chooses? Sometimes we need to say no. I have said no in my life, at times, and for good reasons. What does God do with our no’s? I’m not interested in simplistic answers to that question. I’m interested in taking the long view, letting a person’s entire journey over a lifetime be their story. This poem by Pesha Joyce Gertner says what I am learning, what I want to say to you:

The Healing Time

Finally on my way to yes
I bump into
all the places
where I said no
to my life
all the untended wounds
the red and purple scars
those hieroglyphs of pain
carved into my skin, my bones,
those coded messages
that send me down
the wrong street
again and again

where I find them
the old wounds
the old misdirections
and I lift them
one by one
close to my heart
and I say    holy