Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota
Environmental Stewardship Commission

Road in the Wilderness
by Molly Wolf

(I suspect) the last layer of asphalt on the next stretch of four-lane highway connecting my town to the city. Pretty soon it should be four-lane all the way out to the road by the river.  South of that, the roadcut is still raw and wounded-looking, and the big interchange for the main east-west highway is still swarming with guys laying forms and setting steel rods before the concrete is poured. That stretch still has a long way to go.

What popped into my head, as I drove north toward the city for an appointment, was the line from Isaiah: "Make straight in the desert a highway for your God." I'd heard the line sung a gazillian times in Messiah, but I'd never really given it any real thought before. What does it *mean*, anyway? So I spent the rest of the trip-time in thinking about highways, what they are, what they mean, how we make them.

It's a given, in our belief, that God respect free will that God does not come where God is not invited. Fair enough; that's an obvious meaning for the line. We`re supposed to take steps to open up the way for God, because God insists on respecting our boundaries. That's the quick, pat theological answer.

But it begs the metaphor. There`s too much in that image for a quick, pat answer, theologically correct or not. It feels like there are underlayers of meaning, pleading to be unpacked.

Why would God need a highway through the *desert*? Presumably God knows where God is going, after all, and presumably God can get through the desert quite unaided by human intervention. It`s not like getting through the Ontario cedar swamps, after all; there are no trees in the way, although I suppose loose sand could be a real bogging-down problem.

Back off the word "desert" for a moment. Desert would have been background for the people Isaiah was preaching for what lay outside the boundaries of town and farmland. The equivalent here is brush woods it used to be tall stands of virgin pine, but they were wiped out a century ago. But maybe our landscape will do as well for Isaiah's words: make straight through the swamps and brush a highway for our God.

Still doesn't make literal sense. The Spirit can get from here to Moosenee without my intervention all the way to Tuktoyaktuk, for that matter, over the great grey beautiful Canadian Shield, through the real bush, over the tundra. The Spirit blows where it pleases, after all.

But can the Spirit get to the middle of me without my cooperation? What about my own waste and desert spaces, my own tangles of cedar, my own personal internal swamps and sloughs? Can this Spirit travel deepinto my inmost places, where the deep fears and hurts are, where there lurk black bears of anger and burned-out timber of ancient grief?

"Can" is irrelevant. Won't. Not without my permission. My job is to open the road not for God's sweet sake, but for my own. It's that act of will that God waits for.  Maybe I don't know! God could get through my wilderness just for the asking. But maybe God's work in me goes faster and better if I actively help -- if I dig out the rocks, clear out the scrub timber, fill in the swamps and sinkholes, build up a roadbed, making it as
straight and level as my inner landscape allows.

Maybe there are other reasons as well. Our purpose in this life is to glorify God and love each other. When we make roads into our own wildernesses, we build paths for each other to travel, in that exchange of love that is what God intended us to live in. Maybe we need paths for ourselves to travel, for that matter, exploring what lies in our own internior landscape -- for which of us truly knows his or her own heart?

Whatever the reason, I have to head out to that wilderness beyond the town and farmlands, where I'm alone with my self and the Spirit, and get working.  I hope the mosquitos aren't too fierce and the black bears behave themselves, that there is cool spring water in the heat of the day, and that the Spirit's singing will keep me from getting too lonely. But I'm called to this labour, as are we all.

And in the end, we will shout for joy, and be tenderly carried like sheep, and be comforted at the close of the day, when the work is finished and we rest in that Light that we can now not begin to imagine.

Molly Wolf, a writer, an editor, a mother, and an Anglican living in the province of Ontario, Canada, originally wrote this in May 1998 as part of her Sabbath Blessing for May 23, 1998.  Her most recent writings are available online on her Molly Wolf's Sabath Blessings.

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