General Fiction posted June 20, 2019


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Listening to the still, small voice.

A Path Better Chosen

by Loren


It was going to be the trip of a lifetime. Looking back, indeed for eternity.

It is strange, seeing your shadow ahead of you. It seems the natural order of things is that one's shadow always be behind you; not in front as if it were laying a dark path where you've yet to set your feet.

On a particular morning in October, Katie, my rescue dog, and I are making our way down a quiet country road that runs just beyond our front gate.

Bathed in the red glow of the rising sun, our shadows are elongated before us. Their darkened forms lead us playfully in a bobbing pantomime of ourselves; soon fading in the darker canvas of the shaded road.

"Maybe today," I say to Katie to break the quiet. She looks up at me, her pace perfect to mine. I touch a Bible inside my jacket. Its weight is ungainly. "Yes, maybe today."

The road is of morning-dampened dirt, colored red by the richness of the iron in the soil. Small, weathered stones occasionally break the road's surface, impediments easily tossed aside into the weed-choked gully on either side. A hedgerow of towering oak trees line the road, their broad branches create a baroque-gilded canopy for a hundred yards or more.

The first frost has come and gone and the oak corridor is breathtaking in its beauty -- a slanted red sun filtering through the golden leaves. The walkway becomes a cathedral hushed in an apricot light that stills the soul.

I've heard it said that a man begins to understand the meaning of life when he first plants a tree under which he knows he will never sit. Walking down this road, I somehow know this must be true.

At the end of the corridor, the road diverges around a meadow of orchard grass. The road to the right meanders down to follow a stream that empties into a mill pond. Billy Graham is holding a crusade there today.

As we reach the juncture of the road, we stand upon our shadows. I can just make out a preacher's voice down at the mill. Muffled passages of scripture whisper up the road. Katie looks at me, waiting, wagging her tail. My heart beats frantically. "Maybe not yet," I tell her.

The left road rises and falls with the swell of the land and circles back around as it follows the ridge of a small hill. On the west slope of the hill is a graveyard that lies silently undisturbed. The sky is clear, no clouds hindering the discourse between heaven and earth in the abundant stillness of the sacred field. The hill is dotted with white headstones. Some are askance, others upright; each reminding me of morning glories rising to greet the sun.

I take the path, to the left, leaving the whispering voice behind me. Katie, ever loyal, follows.

Our shadows return ahead of us once again as if guiding our steps. I come to a tree that overlooks the pastoral valley and sit in its shade. Katie sidles up to me and lies down with a contented sigh.

The silence presses on my thoughts and I reflect our walk up here: the man who planted the corridor of trees below, our fading shadows hidden in its bosom, the muffled whispering of scripture at the juncture of the road.

"I want to believe," I begin. My voice is grainy with morning idleness. Katie looks up at me and I smile, petting her head. "It's okay, girl. Just trying to talk to the man upstairs." I look up, into the sky and am greeted with stillness, broken only by the iridescent wings of darting dragonflies.

It has been said that Michelangelo, when sculpting David , looked inside the stone to find the image he was seeking to create and chipped away at what was not the image. And soon the figure, David, appeared, released from the stone imprisoning him.

I pull the Bible from inside my jacket and look at it. "Your Bible is like that stone to me, God." I call out. I open the Bible, glancing at the words. "If I look to find what's not there, will you then become real to me?"

The quiet of the valley is broken by a distant respondent hymn from the revival. The melody seems suspended over the hills and I recall the words from my childhood: Oh, God, hear my prayer...

I listen in the cathedral stillness it brings. "I want to believe," I shout out over the anthem, looking into the sky. Tears blur my eyes. "I want so hard to believe..." my voice falters. "But I can't. I just can't. God, where are you?"

Katie nuzzles my hand, her nose warm against my skin. I look into her eyes and back into the sky. "God, soften my heart," I breathe. "If it is the only way, soften my heart..."

Another hymn rises over the hills, its words flutter in the air. "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me..."

"Soften my heart," I prayer over the song. "... I once was blind, but now I see...."

Shawled in the hymn, I close my eyes and find myself praying. Mutterings are falling from my lips, words flowing from a source I had no idea existed within me. I feel a certain oddness about me, a certain lightness; and I laugh at a sudden realization.

"God," I ask, "are these hymns your chiseling tool?" I pause in thought. "The Bible was not the stone, was it? But rather my heart."

Another hymn floats from beyond the eastern horizon. It seems to be carried in the rays of the climbing morning sun. "Just as I am, without one plea..."

The words press my thoughts and I reflect my walk up here with Katie; of the man who planted the corridor of trees, our fading shadows hidden in its bosom, the muffled whispering of promise at the juncture of the road.

I rise up and Katie with me. "Come on girl," I say. "No more maybes. Today is the day." The sun is now before us and our shadows follow as we begin to retrace out steps back. My heart no longer imprisoned in stone.

"O Lamb of God, I come. I come."


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© Copyright 2019. Loren All rights reserved.
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