When I was little, my family frequently hiked in the Rocky Mountains. Often we would go places where there were no trails, and we seldom saw another human being other than ourselves all day. The mountain ranges of Wyoming and Colorado are high and wild, exquisitely beautiful and quite dangerous – and that was even more true sixty years ago when I first started toddling around up there.
My father taught me a simple rule for getting found again if I were ever lost. “Find a stream,” he said, “and follow it downhill.” There were several other rules that went along with that one: bring a jacket, bring matches and a pocket knife, go slow and test your footing so you don’t twist an ankle, keep your socks dry, wear a hat. But, the basic rule, true no matter what, was that to find other people and to get help you went downstream.
I have never been so lost in the mountains that I have had to resort to my father’s rule for getting found, but it is part of my basic orientation. Downstream lies civilization. I can always find my way out of danger by following the streams, and that makes me comfortable to explore. No matter how lost I get, I know what to do. Even if one stream plunges down a cliff or loses itself in marshy ground, I can find a route to the place where I can pick it up again or I can cast about for another.
Spiritually, I have been really lost many times. I have learned that the streams to follow in that case are prayer disciplines. In the exquisite wilds of human life, God is always downstream along one of those waterways.
In today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus talks about constructing a house on rock. He says that hearing his words and acting on them builds this kind of dwelling. If we respond to the Beatitudes, listening for a deep, life-changing understanding that guides our actions as well as our thoughts, we orient ourselves in the mountains of spiritual understanding. We learn things that become basic to us. We know what is important, what lasts.
When we get really lost spiritually, that orientation guides us. Our foundation is firm. “Find a stream,” it tells us. Find a way of praying, a way of opening your heart and your mind. “And then walk downhill.” Just keep going until God again feels present and you know you are found.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image: “Creek meanders through the desert” by Hillebrand Steve, U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceLicensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –