In July, I returned to writing columns for the DP as a small piece of some big writing plans. I will update in the future, but for now, join me out on the AT for a few minutes?
For the past three Augusts, my husky, Audrey, and I have joined my friend, Lisa, to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail. Known by hikers simply as the AT, the trail starts in Georgia and ends in Maine, covering more than 2,100 miles of pristine forest.
The path is marked by tree trunks sporting 2-inch by 6-inch painted rectangles known as "white blazes." It winds through swaths of thick forest and up rocky mountains: a thin, well worn ribbon of compressed earth.
For me, the AT provides a solid visual for the "narrow way" Jesus spoke of in Matthew 7:14: "For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. " Accordingly, conventions of trekking this narrow path provide insight into my Christian walk.
It is difficult to spend much time on the AT without hearing the mantra "hike your own hike," a sentiment frequently etched into the walls of shelters or tables with the shorthand HYOH.
HYOH is intended to serve as a reminder that your hike is just that — your own personal journey. Countless others have gone ahead of you, and multitudes more will follow — but your journey happens in relative solitude.
You decide how many miles to cover, and when to take a zero day (AT lingo for days off, sometimes expressed as, "I took a zero"). You decide what and how much you'll carry. You choose what you'll eat (a jar of Nutella, a jar of peanut butter and a spoon works for me. Don't judge. It's my hike.) You pick your travel companions (if any). It's your call whether or not you'll even talk, as we discovered upon encountering a lone hiker who had taken a vow of silence.
Philippians 2:12 is the spiritual corollary to HYOH. Paul admonished the church at Phillipi to "work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling," the idea being that he wouldn't always be there to tell them what to do: their journey had to be theirs.
A lot of freedom is implied in the idea of "working out" our own spiritual journey, but it's a freedom mainstream Christianity does not often embrace. Spend much time on the Vacation Bible School circuit or in Sunday School and you'll hear a lot of onward Christian soldiers marching rank-and-file in the Lord's army, as though the spiritual walk was one long, standard-issue group march to the Promised Land.
It's a mentality that seems to be shifting from what I imagine as its team-work, body-of-Christ intent into a sort of group-think aimed at the issuing of statements and policy about who is on and who is off the path. The focus turns, then, on the policing of a group march rather than the responsibilities of a personal journey.
The fact is, the narrow way can't accommodate a platoon marching to a common cadence. Its very design implies the singular journey, a dynamic experience that New Testament writers compared not only to the military, but also athletics and marriage, all apt comparisons that speak to skills required for varying facets of the trip.
A lifelong journey on the narrow path requires the discipline of a soldier, the endurance of an athlete, and the commitment of a spouse.
On the AT, there are times when the HYOH concept is misused as an excuse for poor etiquette, destructive behavior, or wonton irresponsibility. Likewise, Christians cannot ignore the "fear and trembling" aspect of working out our salvation, which involves a relentless policing of our own actions, even as we respect the differences in other's journeys.
There is only one narrow way, but it is a storied path, designed for infinite adventures.
Cynthia Davis is the creative arts director at HarborPointe Community Church. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org