The first day of a journey can be special. There is a wonderful mix of excitement, hope, and expectation. We set out with a sense of purpose and direction. We are on a path to the foot of the cross. No turning to the left or to the right. No wandering about. No meandering.
This is not to say that every journey to the foot of the cross is the same. Christ was driven through a brutal guantlet along the streets of Jerusalem, carrying the cross with Him. Mary walked to Golgotha, too, driven by a mother’s anguish and love. To one side a thief lashed out with jeers and taunts. To the other side a thief reached out with a plea for eternal mercy. All of them were in the same place. They were there on the same day. Yet for each one the journey was completely unique, and the destination was completely different.
Centuries later, Joachim Neander was on a journey of his own. As a young man he enjoyed meandering through the hills and valleys near his home. Neander’s meanders were so well known that a valley came to be named after him–Neander’s valley. He walked along, admiring the handiwork of his Creator.
A story is told that one day Neander wandered farther than usual. The sun went down. Storm clouds formed. Rain began to fall. Neander hurried through the darkness trying to make his way home. Suddenly there was a flash of lightning. For a brief moment the entire valley was illuminated, revealing that Neander’s next step in the dark could have been his last. He was at the edge of a precipice and would have fallen to his death. Frightened by the lightening and terrified by the cliff, he clambered away from the edge. Safely back on the path, Neander made his way home. Afterward, he always gave credit to God for saving him that night.
That experience shaped Neander’s life. His appreciation for creation remained as strong as ever, and his spiritual focus and purpose were sharpened. In the years that followed he wrote many hymns. One of them, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, is a shout for joy to the Creator. Let your soul praise the Lord with these words.
Praise to the Lord,
the Almighty, the King of creation.
O my soul, praise him,
for he is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear,
now to his temple draw near;
join me in glad adoration!
As we journey into the labyrinth, may we enjoy the creation that God has laid before us, and like Neander, may we encounter God in wonderful and life-changing ways.
Follow the Path!
[Use with In the Beginning, day 1 of A Labyrinth Pilgrimage]