Much-Afraid begins her journey by meeting up with her guides. She is almost immediately set with disappointment because this journey is not going the way she had planned. Who would want to journey with guides named Sorrow and Suffering?
In chapters six and seven she experiences even more frustration. She starts her journey going up a mountain. Although the way is hard, she stays with it because it seems to be going the way she wants to go. Then the path leads them away and away from her heart’s desire. It leads her away from the promise the Shepherd had given her. The path leads them into a desert; just about as far away from the High Places that the Shepherd could lead her and there is no prospect of turning back towards those peaks in the vision that she sees. The Shepherd comes to her and asks her: “Do you love me enough to accept the postponement and apparent contradiction of the promise and go down into the desert?”
Down into the desert she goes giving up another part of her will and adds another stone of trust to her bag. Here the Shepherd tells her the stories of all the others that were led through the desert. He gives her the pictures of the wheat being ground almost to dust in order to make it perfect for it’s use as flour and the picture of the potter molding and shaping the clay into a vessel perfect. The pictures of submission to the greater will of the one who knows best.
Leaving the desert they move in a westward direction. She comes through the desert with a will to follow wherever the Shepherd leads and he leads her directly away from the High Places. Oh poor Much-Afraid’s heart! How hard it is when we come to places in our lives where we offer up our will and then the Lord asks for even more!
But he tells her: “remember it is always safe to obey my voice even if it seems to call you to paths which look impossible or even crazy.” So now Much-Afraid has left her green valley, walked through the desert and now walks along the Shores of Loneliness. She grabs the hands of her companions and they walk, but something has happened to her. Acceptance has blossomed and as she walks
she doesn’t go cringingly or complainingly. Indeed, gradually an impossible thing seemed to be happening. A new kind of joy was springing up in her heart, and she began to find herself noticing beauties in the landscape of which until then she had been quite unconscious.
She discovers what Ann Voskamp calls the Ugly-Beautiful.
Much-Afraid is finding the Ugly-Beautiful in the midst of lost promises. She can’t even see the mountains from these shores that she walks along, but she walks and takes in the beauty of where she is.
This Holy Week is a week of finding the Ugly Beautiful. As we sit on the edge of Maundy Thursday and the story of Christ’s betrayal and arrest it is a reminder of this way of the impossible. To the disciples this week becomes an ultimate loss of the promise. They don’t understand what happens in the Garden and how it could even lead to anything close to what they had thought would happen in their minds. They are like Much-Afraid being led into the Shores of Loneliness.
They sleep, they deny and they run away in fear.
They grab the hands of Sorrow and Suffering and cling desperately to the Promise that they can’t even see.
Thankfully it’s not the end of the story.