Books That Bless: The Walk: Reflections on Life and Faith from the Appalachian Trail (Part One)

English: The Franconia Ridge, a section of the...
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A Book Review by Mick Turner

We all have them, usually hidden deep within the recesses of our minds and surfacing from time to time to fill our fantasies and daydreams. Occasionally we share them with others but for the most part they remain our secret dreams. I know that I have had two such dreams – things I wanted to do during my lifetime. I guess these days it would be appropriate to relegate such things to my “Bucket List,” the things I want to do before I die.

The pair of outlandish dreams that I have might have been possible in my younger days, but what with health issues and advancing age, I suspect I will never accomplish these two wishes. The first dream I have had for as long as I remember is to ride a touring bike (bicycle, not motorcycle) from Key West to Nome, Alaska. Now that would be a journey to remember. The second dream is equally demanding: to hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. I suspect more people have accomplished this than the bike trip to Nome, but I suspect many of the challenges are the same.

I mention all this because I recently read a book describing one couples journey up the Appalachian Trail. The book, written by Randy Motz and Georgia Harris, is entitled, The Walk: Reflections on Life and Faith from the Appalachian Trail. Experienced hikers and committed Christians, the authors have been married for seventeen years and have written extensively about their hikes and their walk of faith.

I will say up front that I cannot recommend this book too highly. In addition to sharing vivid descriptions of their journey up the trail, the authors use the trek as a living metaphor for the Christian walk of faith. Each chapter in the book draws parallels between challenges encountered on the trail with challenges sincere believers find when attempting to live in obedience to the Master on a daily basis.

The reader gets a taste of this wonderful structure right out of the gate. In the opening chapter entitled, “The Path,” the authors tell the story of how they wound up taking the wrong trail and wasting valuable time and energy, simply because they failed to locate and follow the appropriate trail marker (called a “blaze) after crossing a road near the Maryland-Pennsylvania border. As experienced hikers with much experience along the Appalachian Trail, the couple made the decision to follow their own reasoning rather than locating the true guidepost, which would have led them in the right direction.

The authors use this experience along the trail as a jumping off point for an insightful discussion of the importance of following our God-given sense of right and wrong when faced with uncertainty in life. This internal “North Star” is a blessing we often take for granted, but along with holy scripture, our conscience provides us with clear cut, positive, and fruitful direction. Motz and Harris explain:

Humans have been endowed with an internal moral compass, an innate sense of right and wrong, “a conscience,” that ultimately affects every decision we make. When heeded, this sense of direction helps us stay on our life’s course. It is also a sense that nags at our soul whenever we make less-than-wise decisions – erroneous choices made despite every ounce of information, intuition, and common sense we possess. This uniquely human characteristic is often pushed into the recesses of our psyches when we are presented with options that seemingly offer us an easier, or more attractive, route to personal satisfaction. We also purposely throw circumspection to the winds and allow our egos to blur the edges of good judgment in direct contradiction to what our conscience is telling us.

As the hikers experience proved, when we allow the ego to take over and make important life decisions the results are more often than not less than satisfactory. I know that in my own life I have validated this fact many times over. Further, myself included, many of us are quite clever in our ability to offer up rationalizations for our choices. Still, our conscience – our internalized value system – continues to nip at our heels and eventually brings us to a point of conviction, where we admit to ourselves our mistakes. The authors continue:

No matter how hard we try, that innate sense of right and wrong will not allow us to interminably rationalize our wrong decisions. We cannot overcome that visceral nagging that affirms that we chose incorrectly and that we will eventually suffer some types of consequence – even if it is nothing more than our own self-loathing. Every attempt to feign knowing better or insisting that the guidance given to us was bogus, or outdated, only makes matters worse. It is the very weight of our conscience, the response of our moral compass, which forces us to re-evaluate our decisions, regain our sense of direction, and gently persuades us to backtrack along our ill-chose path. Then, with confidence and a clear conscience, we can move forward in the right direction.

As I read through The Walk I was struck by how seamlessly the authors were able to move back and forth from narratives describing their experiences along the trail to highly inspirational and insightful commentaries on how these experiences were analogous to our attempts to live by the principles of Christ in this complex and rapidly changing world. As a writer, I full well understand that such smooth transitions are not always easy and Motz and Harris should be commended for what they have managed to accomplish. In short, the excellent content of the book is further augmented by its skillful presentation.

To be continued…..

© L.D. Turner 2011/All Rights Reserved

Map of Appalachian Trail
Image via Wikipedia

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