I am biking in a fundraising event for the Presbytery of the Redwoods Hunger task force. Members of my congregation and I are riding to support Pedal for Protein, which helps food banks and pantries across northern California buy beans, peanut butter, meats and other much needed proteins that are hard to acquire from straight donations.
So last Friday my friend and congregation member, Sharon, and I rode our big ride – 10 miles on the West County Trail in Sonoma County, California. After four miles of apple orchards and vineyards, the trail swings through Graton – a little winery town, past the artisan woodworker and the glass shop next door, past the dayworker center and the restaurants, and on out of town up a long steep hill that goes on forever.
Sharon and I rode a quarter of the way before we got off the bikes and started walking. We walked halfway up the hill before we stopped under the shade of a lone bush and agreed that we would not give up before we reached the top. We continued three-quarters up the hill before we stopped again and pulled out our phones for a map – surely this was not a part of the West County Trail?
Indeed, we had missed the turnoff in Graton where the trail continued merry and flat on its way to Forestville. In fact, I missed it AGAIN on our way back. Sharon only saw it because another rider came out of it after I had passed. She caught up with me, but rather than turning around we saw that we had met our daily goal climbing that crazy hill, so we returned along the path we had already traveled.
I was so disappointed that the signage was bad and the trail so easy to miss. “After all, I missed it not only once, but twice,” I reasoned as we pedaled slowly home. At the car we laughed at our tired muscles. I could barely get off my bike. I was glad to let Sharon drive. But we didn’t go home the same way we came – Sharon wanted to drive through Graton to see the trailhead we missed.
And there it was, with a sign and a yellow metal gate, just like all the trailheads along that part of the bike path. I had not missed it because it wasn’t marked. I just missed it. Blinked at the wrong time, turned my head to look at the winery across the street, who knows what distraction kept me from noticing it. But I didn’t get to blame anything outside myself!
That is not an unusual feature of my spiritual journey either. Even when I’m looking for a Divine sign, I am often to distracted to see it. I was struck in the Exodus passage of the Bible with Moses and the burning bush, that the Lord does not speak to him until Moses turns aside and notices the fantastical sight. In more modern parlance, I am surprised almost every time by the unexpected sight in this online “awareness test.”
Much of our spiritual work is the hard work of awareness, of noticing the ways the spiritual world breaks into what some would call the “real world” of our lives. I have seen far too many very real things to not put “real world” into quotes. And it is critical to be awake and alert so we don’t miss the trail.
However, beating ourselves up over our lapses in awareness does not help either. Sharon and I were exhausted by our unnecessary uphill climb, but it also gave us much laughter once we were recovered. And the Graton to Forestville section of the West County Trail still waits for us, if she’ll ever ride with me again.
Likewise, we will sometimes miss the Divine, but it keeps coming back, just waiting for our eyes to finally be open and our hearts to be waiting. Wake up!
Can you think of times when you think you missed a trail, but you had an even better adventure? Are there other times when you missed something really important by not being aware? How do you practice noticing what is happening in your life? Being mindful is one way people describe the spiritual practice of being aware of each moment. Do you have a mindfulness practice?
If you want to talk about paths you think you might have missed or you need help developing a mindfulness practice, consider spiritual direction with Openings: Let the Spirit In.