One of the things that is a constant refrain through much of Much-Afraid’s journey is that when she is headed in the direction of the mountains, and on the path that she thinks she needs to go, she is joyful. When the path turns away from the promise (or so it seems) she is completely disheartened. It is a lesson that the Shepherd repeats for the first part of her journey over and again.
Those times that the path seems to move away are the times that she is overcome by her enemies. Craven Fear, Bitterness, Pride, Resentment and Self-Pity move in like a pack of lions and try to devour her spirit. The Shepherd has reminded her to call out to him when these enemies show their faces and it’s a lesson that takes time for her to learn. By the second or third time these Fearlings have shown their faces she begins to realize that she does have power over them. She can call out to the Shepherd and she can also sing. In chapter six as they start over the Great Sea Wall and her enemies are surrounding her she lifts up her voice and declares Psalm 27:6
And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord. As she sings these words aloud her enemies are distracted and their taunts are drowned out.
But even after this great success over her enemies, her hope continues to rest upon her circumstances. The direction she is moving or the scenery around here – even the way of the path in front of her. After the Sea Wall she comes to a great wall in front of her. Not only has the Shepherd led her away from the direction she desired to go, he has now led her to what seems an impasse. Craven Fear shows up as she watches the deer bounce along this great precipice. And instead of calling out to the Shepherd she listens to Fear. She opens up her imagination to all the things that are impossible about this way. She fears calling out to the Shepherd because she knows what he will ask her to do and she is terrified.
But she does call and he responds. “I love doing preposterous things…turning weakness to strength, fear to faith and something marred into perfection.” He brings her to the absolute point where in her own strength she could never do it. Like Sarah and Abraham having a baby. Like Mary being the Mother of God. Places where there is no way but to say “it is of the Lord.”
As she starts to climb with the Shepherd beside her she realizes that it is not as scary as she thought. They edges are not as small as they seemed. The way not as hard to overcome as it looked. But her imagination must remain closed; for what she imagines is often much more unnerving and terrible than what actually is.
She mounts this horrible precipice with great joy and satisfaction. And then again is led away from the mountains. And again she is disheartened at the way she is to go. What patience the Great Shepherd has to repeatedly teach her (and us) the same lesson over and again until we finally submit! He leads her to a place where she abandons her will. She makes another alter and sacrifices another part of her will. And the Shepherd gently reminds her:
“don’t ever allow yourself to begin to try and picture what the path ahead will be like – when you get the places you dread (or the direction that seems opposite) they will be as different as possible than what you imagined.”
Trust. It’s about trust. And we lost trust in the Garden and all of us this side of Eden will continue to build alters of our wills. Like Much-Afraid, our Shepherd continues to lead us and remind us that He does have our best interest at heart. He who began a good work in us is faithful to finish it. It’s the finishing that is so terribly hard.
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.
In the beginning we learn that Much-Afraid is not only full of fear inside, but outside she is ugly and deformed. Her face is twisted into a constant frown. Her feet are deformed and it is hard for her to walk. She is easily swayed and constantly taunted by her family of Fearlings.
But, she loves the Shepherd. She works for him in this Valley of Humiliation and longs to be like the deer pouncing along the high places with feet perfect for the journey. The first five chapters bring us into her daily struggle and the invitation from the Shepherd to join him on the journey to high places. He promises that he will give her a new name and a new body. But she will have to be ready to join him when he calls for her. She finally escapes her Fearling family and joins the Shepherd at the foot of the mountains and while she stands there, staring at the journey ahead she asks him why he can’t just carry her?
I love this question and her blatant honesty with the Shepherd. And his gentleness in answering her is even more lovely. He reminds her that he could carry her, but in carrying her up she would never develop the hinds feet that she would need to live up there on these high places. It is only in the journey that the transformation can occur. How often do we just long for the Lord to take the cup from us? For God to just carry us through it…to make the way easier for us? While He certainly can and sometimes does; more often He doesn’t. And we so often view it as a punishment. But that is so far from the truth. It’s in us walking through the hardness, the loneliness, the way away from where we thought we were going that we are fastened more to Him and made more like Him.
She is given two guides: Sorrow and Suffering and she immediately shrinks away from them. She tries hard not to need them; to use the help that the Shepherd has given her. But as she tries to go up that first summit, she realizes that she can’t go on alone. Her cousin Pride enters and tries to turn her back. Tries to convince her that the way is foolish. She calls out to the Shepherd and she learns that she must take the hands of her guides in order to make it. She has to give in to sorrow and suffering.
Joining with many others in a practice I’ve sort of given up on. Today I write again for five minutes on a word prompted by the gypsy mama. Writing with grace, freedom and no edits.
Funny that the day that I decided to join in on FMF the word is remember. I’ve been reading Hinds Feet on High Places and it seems that is the theme of the book.
When the path seems to take you away from where you were headed…
When the way is unseen and shrouded in mist…
When it’s too much; the voices of the enemy whispering, the constant giving and going…
When the way is filled with sunshine and flowers and amazing beauty…
Remember where you have come from, what you have come through and who leads you by it.
Engage with life and cement that in your head.
Stop and be with those around you and be in.that.moment.
Forget the camera, forget the status updates, forget the potential blog post and just be there.
For the pictures are great, sharing with friends is so much fun and “giving” a taste to the world can be such a blessing too…but it’s that moment; the right here and the right now that really can stick in your mind. When you engage with the here and now, you don’t have to depend on the photo or the blog to help you remember. Because it’s there, because you were there.