Monday 18 November 2013

Tour Guides Available

This article was originally published in Christian Courier, Issue 2967, August 26, 2013.

On Victoria Day I was in Edmonton. With an opening in my schedule, someone suggested that I go out to Elk Island Park for a walk. I bought bug repellant, water, and high SPF lip balm. At the Visitor Centre I asked the guide about the best route to walk. He suggested a 10 kilometre trail around Shirley Lake (Shirley, the name of my mother-in-law and sister). I started walking the trail and wondered "why?" The scenery was a forest. Every once in a while I would see a little water, but not any animals more than a squirrel. The path was easy to follow. It seemed like just exercise, but I wanted more than that. I realized I was taking a walk without a guide.

Reading Scripture
That could describe how many people feel when they read Scripture. They prepare to do it. They have some instructions. They have the reading skills, but they start and then wonder "why?" As they continue reading, they think, "Well, maybe I will get something out of this. Maybe I can at least say I have done it." Many people read Scripture without a guide. I didn't know what to look for on my walk. I would see something to avoid, like a puddle to walk around or the large amount of scat on the trail. Some people read Scripture and consider how not to act, or decide what to avoid. But that doesn't seem to be enough — a negative reading. You can avoid those problems in other ways. I didn't need to walk the trail to know that avoiding mud and dung makes sense.

I wanted an adventure, a positive experience, an encounter. So I kept walking, just like many people keep reading. I considered whether this was a joke Canadians play on Americans like myself who move to Canada. "Go for a walk out in the woods" – setting us up to be mosquito bait. But those who know the woods know what to look for. If they were with me, they would be able to point out things I missed — all the types of trees, the type of scat, where to look for animals, the meaning in history of this forest, who once lived here, why the National Park came into existence, how it has value . . . . A learned person and guide would have helped me. The same thing is true when it comes to reading Scripture. There are many things that a guide can point out.

A guide
I talked to a guide at the beginning of my walk, but he didn't know me. His advice was very general. A guide is most helpful if he or she not only knows the trail and what to point out, but also knows you and your background. Your community, including your pastor, is good place to look for a guide to Scripture. Find someone with knowledge and experience, but not always someone who thinks just like you.

I often want to walk by myself. Going by myself allows me to set my own pace, to have reflections, and to do what I want to do; but it also has limitations. There is no one with whom to share the experience. In two groups I saw children pointing out different things, looking in different ways, and asking questions. I would have enjoyed taking such a walk with my children or grandchildren. We read Scripture alone too much.

Overall my walk was unadventurous. I did not see any animals, other than one bunny, a squirrel, a few ducks and birds. I did not see any bison, elk, beavers, fox, or coyote — which is maybe good. On the plus side, I did not get lost. I did not turn an ankle. It was a beautiful day for a good walk — partly cloudy skies, temperature around 20, and not enough rain to cause any difficulty.

Reading Scripture will not always bring a startling moment. It is good exercise. It opens us up to the possibility of new experiences. In the adventures and in the average, God is there. God was there in the magnificence of the forest, in the fallen trees and new growth, the life cycle of the ponds and lakes, the beauty of the sun, the variety of the day . . . . It was a not life-changing encounter. It was a good walk, but it would have been better if there had been tour guides available.

Tom Wolthuis, President