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Off the Beaten Path

Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” (1920) ends with a sigh, the voice lamenting that despite a desire to go in two directions at once, only one path can ever be taken.  And so, with these two diverging roads in front of him, “I took the one less traveled by/And that has made all the difference.”

I recently spent a week of my holidays adventuring down my own road less traveled by.  My friend and I went canoeing in the back country of Northwestern Ontario.  It was not as backcountry a trip as we have ever taken, as we did (from time to time) encounter other humans enjoying their cabins and motorboats, but we were certainly off the beaten path.  The only way to go any distance was to canoe or portage; the only place to sleep at night was pitching our tent on a found campsite; the only way to eat was to prepare the foods that we had carefully packed and carried along with us.

Admittedly, I have friends who think I’m mad for going off in the woods paddling for a rest.  However, I found the week to be blissful.  Relaxing, regenerative, rejuvenating.  There were the inevitable sunburns and sore muscles, bug bites and bruises.  There was also great conversation and laughter, the beauty of companionable silence, the sheer delight in watching the sun set over a lake.

And there were unexpected treasures along the way, things that simply could not be planned, things that could not be found anywhere near the beaten path.  We passed a family of river otters playing; we heard the haunting call and echo of loons in a bay.  We surprised a Great Blue Heron at 10m; shared our lunch (and one morning, our canoe!) with frogs.  We breathed in the intoxicating freshness of the pine trees and heard the crackling of twigs underfoot; we swam in astoundingly clear waters as the sun shone down.  And twice we found abundant wild blueberries where we were camping, which made for a lovely treat with our morning oatmeal.

The road less traveled by provided for us an amazing opportunity to enjoy the scenery, to reconnect with one another and with the natural world.  It provided us the opportunity to reconnect with our Creator in the wondrous Creation.

As I’ve returned to the realm of phone calls and computers, electricity and obligations, I’ve been reflecting that my vacation time is not unlike my spiritual path.

As a Christian, I have been invited to see different paths in the world.  There is the path of following Christ, and there is the path of following our ever-increasingly secularised society.  These paths are distinct, and unique, and seem to be headed in different directions.  And we are invited to decide which path we will choose.

When we choose to walk down the path of the purely secular, we are choosing a popular path, an easy path, a path that so many others are choosing to walk.  I am not suggesting that the secular life is without challenge, but it is one that is common.  And so, this path (in my mind) becomes that grassy and fair path of Frost’s description.  Following that path means journeying with so many others, moving quickly along a fairly stable route.

When we choose to walk down that other path, however, we realise that there are fewer people there, that this is the less popular route.  This means taking things a little slower, but that this slowness allows for us to fully appreciate the journey itself.  This is the route “bent in the undergrowth” that invites journeyers to walk carefully and intentionally, a route which encourages us to take in those unexpected delights like the scent of undisturbed forest or the sound of fish jumping or the taste of wild blueberries.

These are the paths before us – the popular path of the secular world, or the lesser known path of following Christ.  We must, each of us, decide where we will go, in what direction our journey will take us.  Every day we make this choice.  Every day, however, we realise, like Frost, that we can not travel both and still be just one traveler.

And so I choose to follow the less-popular but more fulfilling path.  I choose to journey with Christ, deliberately integrating my Christian values into the choices that I make in my everyday life.  I choose to let these values influence my choices of music and television and books and purchases made.  I choose to consider my Christian foundation when I engage in conversations and decide how to spend my time.  I choose to be delighted by taking the Christian path, to be intentionally aware of the journey.

Two paths diverge in my life.  I took the one less traveled by.  And that has made all the difference.

About Laura Marie Piotrowicz

I'm a high-energy priest, now serving in the Diocese of Niagara, catching glimpses of the kingdom in daily life. I consider church to be a verb, and I'm passionate about prayer, eco-theology, and social justice. I love travel, reading, canoeing, camping, gardening and cooking, playing with my dogs, and drinking good coffee.
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