March 10, 2024 Reflection and Worship Link


“The Gift of Getting Lost”

Scripture Reading: 1 Samuel 3:1-10, Psalm 42


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Parker Palmer begins his book “A Hidden Wholeness” with this quote from Leonard Cohen: “The blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold and it has overturned the order of the soul.”  Palmer then goes on to share this story “There was a time when farmers on the Great Plains, at the first signs of a blizzard, would run a rope from the back door (of their houses) out to the barn.  They all knew stories of people who had wandered off and been frozen to death, having lost sight of home in a whiteout while still in their own back yards…..Today we live in a blizzard of another sort.  It swirls around us as economic injustice, ecological ruin, physical and spiritual violence, and their inevitable outcome, war.  It swirls within us as fear and frenzy, greed and deceit and indifference to the suffering of others.  We all know stories of people who have wandered off into this madness and been separated from their own souls, losing their moral bearings and even their mortal lives:  they make headlines because they take so many innocents down with them.

The lost ones come from every walk of life:  clergy and corporate executives, politicians and people on the street, celebrities and school children.  Some of us fear that we, or those we love, will become lost in the storm.  Some are lost at this moment, and are trying to find the way home.  Some are lost without knowing it.  And some are using the blizzard as cover, while cynically exploiting its chaos for private gain.

So it’s easy to believe Leonard Cohen’s claim that “the blizzard of the world” has overturned “the order of the soul” Easy to believe that the soul – that life-giving core of the human self, with its hunger for truth and justice, love and forgiveness – has lost all power to guide our lives. But my own experience of the blizzard,” says Palmer “tells me that it is not so.  The soul’s order can never be destroyed.  It may be obscured with the whiteout.  We may forget, or deny, that its guidance is close at hand.  And yet, we are still in the soul’s back yard, with chance after chance to regain our bearings.”

In his book “Gifts of the Dark Wood” author Eric Elnes claims that those who embrace life in the Dark Wood gradually learn that the regular experience of getting lost is one of the most important gifts we can receive. 

Feeling lost, he says, alerts us to pay attention.  Any of us who have actually gotten lost on a country road late at night or in the section of a foreign city that the guidebooks say you should avoid, know just how heighten our attention can become when we are literally lost.

If you are at all like me, you know what it is like not just to have your senses heightened, you know what it is to enter into sheer panic when you don’t know where you are going.  I hate getting lost. I am someone who double checks the route ahead instead of just letting Siri tell me where to go because I don’t like the feelings of vulnerability and dependency it evokes in me.

So I am very challenged by people like Eric Elnes and theologian Barbara Brown Taylor who don’t just talk about the gift of getting lost, they talk about the spiritual practice of getting lost.   In fact, Taylor claims that from time to time, she intentionally veers off the well worn cow paths on the land where she lives, so she has to be on the lookout for sunbathing rattlesnakes and groundhog burrows that can swallow your leg up to the kneecap before you even see them.  Sometimes, on her way home from work she purposefully turns off the main highway and allows herself to wander.   She does this, even though these are fairly benign forms of getting lost because she says “if you do not start choosing to get lost in some fairly low-risk ways, then how will you ever manage when one of life’s big winds knocks you clean off your course?”

The truth is that all of us do get lost from time to time for one reason or another.  We all experience times in our life that land us deep in the Dark Wood. If we don’t allow ourselves to actually be lost or acknowledge that we are lost when those times arrive, we might want to ask ourselves what are we avoiding.

In the story of the call of the boy Samuel found in our Hebrew scriptures, absolutely everyone is lost. That story begins by saying that in the time of Samuel, the word of the Lord was rare.  In other words, not many were concerned with the ways of justice and love of neighbor. It was a pretty deprived time. The entire nation was lost. The boy Samuel, who hears a voice calling him in the night, but doesn’t know where the voice is coming from is also lost.  He’s searching for his place in the world.  And Eli, the elderly teacher who perceives that it is God’s voice Samuel is hearing in the night, is possibly the most lost of all.  When Samuel finally hears what God has to say to him, he’s given a message to deliver to his teacher Eli telling him his time being a religious leader has come to an end because he and his family have been too unfaithful, lost and they don’t even seem to know it.

Often what we want when we feel lost in our lives, is for God or life or anyone with wisdom to tell us in a loud voice exactly what we are to do.  But the story of Samuel tells us is that the way God sends direction is not always so obvious and clear.  Three times Samuel mistakes the voice of God for the voice of his teacher, Eli, but God doesn’t give up.  God continues to call to the boy.  And Samuel is open to hearing God’s voice and to taking God’s direction.  I wonder how often are we truly open to divine direction when we are lost?

Samuel, alone and quiet listens in the night for God’s voice.  One of the commentators on this story says that it is often in the night that the call of God finally reaches our ears because that’s the only time that most of us are quiet and still.

The one who points Samuel towards the voice of God, Eli, is someone who hasn’t done a very good job of following God’s voice himself.  Which is interesting isn’t it because it seems to say that when we truly are seeking Divine direction for our lives, we really don’t ever know where that direction will come from. It can come from the most unlikely sources.

As Eric Elnes infers, it pays to pay attention.  When we do allow ourselves to listen to voice of God within and without us , sometimes like the boy Samuel, what we discover is that we are still in the soul’s backyard. We all have a rope tied around us to guide us through the storms of life. If we keep following it, one step at a time, we will find our way back home. There is chance after chance after chance to find our bearings.

I wonder what helps you to listen to God’s voice.  I wonder how you have found your way home when you have been lost.  Who or what it  is that has pointed you in the right direction when you were looking for the next right step?

To close, let’s listen to this well known prayer by Thomas Merton:

  The Road Ahead:

My Lord God, 
I have no idea where I am going. 
I do not see the road ahead of me. 

I cannot know for certain where it will end. 
Nor do I really know myself, 
and the fact that I think that I am following 
your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. 

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. 
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. 
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. 
And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. 

Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, 
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.  



**** Quotes from Parker Palmer “A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Towards an Undivided Life”

Barbara Brown Taylor “An Altar in the World”

Eric Elnes “The Gifts of the Dark Wood”