The long and winding road that leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before it always leads me here
Leads me to your door
I have spent the past couple of weeks continuing to muse on the road theme. A multitude of songs came to mind, including the song by The Beatles above. It’s amazing how many love songs can easily be addressed to God, as well. No doubt, that is the reason why Bernard of Clairvaux made the same connection with the Song of Songs. But, the above song seemed more fitting to my thoughts as I see it as yet another version of the wilderness road. In other words, the road to God is never easy.
This year, instead of doing the daily lectionary readings, my husband, Frank, and I decided instead to read the Bible in a year: the entire Bible, not just the sections chosen for us. We are now well into Isaiah with its prevalent imagery of wilderness and paths, and, reflecting back on Biblical history from Genesis through Isaiah, I realized that keeping creation focused on the Almighty had been a full time job for God and his prophets.The number of Asherah poles, alone, that were raised and thrown down is staggering.
Humans are exceedingly difficult to keep focused. This was something of which Jesus was acutely aware when he began his teaching. Thus the Parable of the Sower: the majority of the seed dies in one way or another. Only a quarter of the seed sown falls on good soil.
So, are we really surprised that the number of people in the pews has fallen? Has anything really changed? Even post Constantine, it has been a continual battle to keep people focused on God. From the desert monks to Benedict of Nursia to Francis of Assisi to Martin Luther and so on and so forth, those who believe are constantly looking for a way to “rebuild” the church, to call people back to God.
And yet, we continually create churches that push people away from God. We create the impression that the most important things are the number of people filling the pews not to mention asking those who attend to give as much as possible of their money and time.
In the Christendom era, church became a duty, a respectable “social” club. Where did that leave actual conversion? When people were baptized in the early church, it was possible that this act alone could lead to their death in a persecuation by the Roman Empire. Baptism in that setting was a serious commitment, a life changing event. Where once people were drawn to Christianity because of how different its followers were, now we go to extremes to try to prove how mainstream we really are.
Jesus said, “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.”
We attempt to gloss over the harsher things Jesus said in order not to frighten people off. And while I believe in a loving and compassionate God, I also believe Jesus meant it when he said, “The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
‘You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn–and I would heal them.’
So, the real questions are, if we want to partner with what God is doing in the world:
- How do we open their eyes? Their ears?
- How do we convince these distressed and distracted people that taking the long and winding road is really worth the effort?
The wild and windy night that the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears crying for the day
Why leave me standing here, let me know the way
Many times I’ve been alone and many times I’ve cried
Anyway you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried
And still they lead me back to the long and winding road