A dear friend of mine told me of these words by Thoreau during a conversation in which we mused on God’s propensity to reveal himself and invite us to bask in those revelations but will not allow us to stay there. He wants us to know him, not one aspect or two or ten; he wants us to know him. He draws us to him.
I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear, that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.
--from the Conclusion of Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
We, however, tend to fall into that beaten track—the moment or revelation or aspect in which we came to know him better. Ah, this is it, we think. This is what it is all about. His Grace. His Love. His Mercy. His Holiness. All those things—grace, love, mercy, freedom, holiness, beauty, life—they are all unfathomably majestic and breathtaking aspects of who God is and how he operates. But that’s not “it.” What is “it”? As Richard Foster puts it, “LIFE—life with Jesus, interactive relationship with the great God of the universe, inner transformation into Christlikeness.” He is it. He wants us to seek him—interacting, breathing, loving, walking with him. It is in walking with and living in and with him that we experience all those beautiful and spectacular aspects of God. Each experience or revelation is a gift—but trying to hold onto it or box it up or use it as our only path is like trying to hold light or water or wind. And we miss out on something more. We miss out him. And he won't stand for that.
My wise friend also pointed out that we not only try to beat paths individually but collectively as well. As a people, we start to walk a beaten path rather than with God. We start to emphasize certain aspects of a theology or practice or tradition and lose sight of the vast wilderness that is the Kingdom spread in God’s wake. This isn’t to say that these things do not offer us strong and necessary guiding light. But to allow them to become the path rather than the interactive relationship with God himself is to lose the life and freedom he brings.
In all this, I can’t help but think of when the Hebrews crossed out of the desert and into Canaan. One morning, after they’d eaten of the food of the Promised Land, the manna that had sustained them for the past four decades didn’t show up. It was a new land with new provisions. God provided for them, just not the same way. He invited them to trust him in a new way.
All this makes sense when we remember that what God wants from us is a relationship. This is what we were created for. He invites each of us and us as a people to walk with him. He calls out a people who trust him, who know who he is and what he can do. To borrow a turn of phrase, God wants us to go with him before the mast and on the deck of his Kingdom, for there we can best see the moonlight amid the mountains.
And I, for one, do not wish to go below now.