Scripture lessons: Malachi 3:1-4; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6
We’ve all known wilderness, be it actual or metaphorical. In the two stories I’m sharing in this poem, it’s both. When you’re lost, it’s sometimes hard to believe that the safe path will be made known to you. I think Advent offers an opportunity to reflect on the times we’ve known wilderness, the times hope has been hard to come by. It’s a time to acknowledge our fears and doubts, whether we’ve already crossed to safety or are still in the thick of a desolate place.
Wilderness in Two Parts
by Kathryn Smith
In my family, the story is legend:
A child of four wanders from the campsite,
certain she knows her way. Sometime later
a family friend follows a muddy trail
of small bootprints, finds the child sitting
on a log, scoops her up and carries her
to safety. I remember being lost
more than I remember being found.
You were right to stay put, they told me.
But I didn’t—not at first. Not until I’d wandered
what seemed hours in a wilderness
too vast to be knowable. Not until fear
stunned me motionless. I gave up hope,
sat down on a mossy log, and lifted
my face to a sliver of sky just visible
through the evergreen canopy
in something like prayer.
At nineteen, I was desperate as a seed
splitting open to unfurl itself, shocked
by the oxygen and sudden light. My only chance
against loneliness was to start again, to seek
the deepest of lakes, unfamiliar mountains close
as my own breath. I chose a trail
obliterated by snow, crusted and fragile.
Breaking through to my shins and heading, generally,
in the right direction, I decided anything resembling
my destination was good enough. That’s how I learned
there’s no safe pathway. When I reached the jagged ravine
and the log beam spanning it, I simply kept
walking, and my boots refused to let me slip.