Essay

The Path

Listen To Article

I was staying in a hotel on one of those ubiquitous suburban strips—big box stores, gas stations, car lots, the usual suspects of restaurants.   Figuring it would be circuitous and challenging to drive the quarter mile to the restaurant on the other side of the street, I determined to walk.  Of course, these suburban strips are notoriously pedestrian-unfriendly.  Pointless to put in sidewalks where everyone drives and no one walks.  Pointless to complain about their absence.  

As I walked, I came to an empty lot still awaiting asphalt.  I expected to have to walk through deep and dewy weeds.  But no—there was a well-defined footpath about fifteen feet in from the busy road.  Can I call a path “cute”?  So precise and worn, bounded by knee-high weeds, completely invisible from the road.   Even with the traffic whirring by and the fast-food wrappers, plastic bags, and other trash in the weeds, I could see a donkey path in the Pyrenees or a shepherd’s trail in Galilee.

The well-worn path told me that indeed there were many walkers in this supposedly pedestrian free zone.  Maids from my hotel.  Dishwashers at the restaurant I was heading for.  Nightshift shelvers at the big box.  People as invisible as the path they had created.

I had been ready to believe that this was a pedestrian-free zone.  I was wrong.  Just because people like me don’t typically walk here didn’t mean that there weren’t walkers, or that there aren’t many people for whom walking is the only option.  The little path reminded me again how my expectations and experiences are often so small and sheltered and privileged.  In how many other places are my assumptions and norms completely unaware of the realities of others?  I drive through life presuming there are no pedestrians. 

But if there was a pang of justice on that little path, even more there was a wave of warm piety.  That path, strangely picturesque to me, must have stirred a memory straight out childhood Sunday School.  Words and images wafted through my consciousness.  He leads me in paths of righteousness.  Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.  Come, follow me.  The way is narrow.  As you are going, make disciples.  He will guide your feet in the path of peace.  For a few brief moments in a suburban wasteland, I was a fresh follower, an eager disciple, walking the Way with Jesus. 

Happy are those in whose hearts are the highways to Zion.  As they go through the valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs.

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell and his wife, Sophie, are the pastors at the Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. Steve has served on numerous Reformed Church commissions and task forces, and also edited the journal Perspectives for many years. Before coming to Iowa, he lived and served as a pastor in upstate New York. Sophie and he have two adult children. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College in theological ethics.

One Comment

Leave a Reply