Heeding the Signs

I arise today, through

The strength of heaven,

 The light of the sun,

 The radiance of the moon,

 The splendor of fire,

The speed of lightning,

 The swiftness of wind,

 The depth of the sea,

 The stability of the earth,

 The firmness of rock.

Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, part 4 (for full poem, click About Saint Patrick’s Breastplate)

There’s nothing quite so beautiful as the ocean; day or night, the power of the Atlantic still amazes me when I walk Maine’s Marginal Way. But there’s a majesty to the mountains that can’t be found anywhere else. Whether in clouds or sun, standing on Mount Washington takes my breath away. Then again, my first view of the Grand Canyon left me speechless; the infinite sky, birds flying high but still below me, and the brilliance of colored stone winding beyond the horizon is a study in infinity and patience.

These are wild places – sea, rock, earth, wind. So wild are these places, that signs are posted to warn visitors when the weather makes them dangerous. Both ends of the Marginal Way carry warnings of being swept off the land into the rocky ocean below. Avalanches, lightning, gale force winds and rapidly dropping temperatures merit signs in parking lots and on trails warning hikers to visit Mount Washington another day. At the top of the Grand Canyon are permanent signs urging tourists to take care, bring water and food, and be aware that the heat in the canyon is deadly. These are wild places – sea, rock, earth, wind.

Every year people die because they do not heed the warning signs. For whatever reason, visitors assume that nothing will happen to them. If the danger isn’t immediately visible, the foolish charge right past the signs – unprepared and unaware. Rescue teams are sent, sometimes saving them, sometimes losing one of their own in the attempt. Living near the wild doesn’t make it tame – a truth most of the locals know and heed.

All living is living in a wild place. Human life is beautiful and powerful, but it can and has gone from welcoming to dangerous in a second. The warning signs are posted: greed, envy, false witness, and vengeance can kill the souls of those who ignore the signs. God keep stranger and friend well away from them, and strengthen those who are brave and compassionate enough to rescue the foolish souls who didn’t heed the signs.

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I am a Christian educator and writer.I have worked in churches, denominational offices, and seminaries. I have a PhD in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, with a focus on Practical Theology and educating in faith. In 2010, my book, "How the Other Half Lives: the challenges facing clergy spouses and partners," was published by Pilgrim Press. I believe that words can build doorways that lead to encounters with God through the Spirit.

2 thoughts on “Heeding the Signs”

  1. Heed the signs. Last night we read Exodus 3:1-15 (Moses and the burning bush) and chose the word or phrase that stood out for us. For me it was:”I must turn aside (and look at this great sight…)”–What is God up to in my life? I can walk right by that bush and miss the miracle and God’s call because I’m (read the Church) on some kind of personal mission or I can turn aside, investigate, heed the sign(s) and hear God’s call, perhaps, and, perhaps, answer “Here am I.” I think God works through our awareness but too often we are on cruise control. Thanks, Johnna, your blog is enabling my Lent.

    1. You are welcome! Turning aside isn’t easy, as it’s often seen as a worthless diversion from the real and important work. But it’s more often the point, and perhaps the best place to see the signs that God so graciously places in plain sight (if we turn our heads, that is!). As always, thank you for your comments. You always see something I don’t – and that’s surely a gift! Peace, Johnna

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