If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you already know how fascinated I am by the tracks of animals I see around my house. I get a thrill from these visible signs of the beings that surround me every day, even though I usually never actually see more than a passing glimpse of them in the flesh. The marks of their silent, ghost-like passage help me remember that my life is part of a much bigger reality than I can see or understand.
As I see these animal tracks in the snow or dirt, I can’t help but wonder where these creatures came from and went. Although they converge at common food sources, they come from many different directions and diverge in an equally diverse manner. They never seem to come or go by retracing their previous footsteps, as if their paths and destinations were constantly changing. (I’m sure that some naturalist can explain the mysterious movements of my nocturnal visitors for me, but that’s not the point of this reflection.)
Each time I see these animal trails, as fascinating as they are, they can only tell me something about the past, not about the present or future. At some point, these animals stand before an unmarked trail and have to decide which way to go from there. Perhaps their previous food source has been depleted and they have to explore new places. Perhaps a predator chases them into unfamiliar territory. Or perhaps they simply decide to wander aimlessly in a new direction, hoping to make some fortuitous discovery.
Although we humans have a greater tendency to follow familiar paths, well-trodden by ourselves and others, we too eventually come to open fields, steep hills, or dark valleys where familiar paths no longer exist. A serious illness, the loss of a job, the birth of a child can all leave us pondering our next tentative steps into uncharted territory. At such a time, our previous experience may not be enough to guide us forward. Others may offer us their advice, but ultimately we must listen to the voice of our own soul to guide us where to go from here. Such moments can feel both terrifying and exhilarating. We afraid of taking a misstep, but also feel excited by the chance to blaze a new trail. We are afraid of letting go of the familiar, but simultaneously feel liberated to make a new beginning.
Such turning points are not always forced upon us by external circumstances, but may also arise from within. Burnout, boredom or a new flash of spiritual insight may lead us to set out in a new direction. And while such shifts can be sudden and dramatic, more often they take place slowly, with only slight adjustments at any one time. But then, when we look back on the path we’ve traveled, we realize the significant turn our lives have taken.
Often the inertia of our movement in a familiar direction is out of sync with the inner impulses and longings that arise from within. It may take us some time to become aware of that tension and to make the necessary changes to realign our inner and outer worlds. This reintegration is an inherently spiritual process. There is a Wholeness – an Integrity – that whispers to all of us. The question is whether we are ready, willing, and able to hear it. That is the point where a Spiritual Guide can help to sharpen our awareness of what that Voice is saying. It’s not about doctrines or abstract ideas, but about where the “rubber” of the inner life of your Spirit meets the “road” of your outer life. And as much as I enjoy the trails of the wild animals around my house, I enjoy even more following the tracks of God in the lives of those willing to seek them!