Lately I’ve been reading The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry when I stumbled on the distinction that he makes between a path and a road. He writes:
“The difference between a path and a road is not only the obvious one. A path is little more than a habit that comes with knowledge of a place. It is a sort of ritual of familiarity. As a form, it s a form of contact with a known landscape. It is not destructive. It is the perfect adaptation, through experience and familiarity, of movement to place; it obeys the natural contours; such obstacles as it meets it goes around.
A road, on the other hand, even the most primitive road, embodies a resistance against the landscape. Its reason is not simply the necessity for movement, but haste. Its wish is to avoid contact with the landscape; it seeks so far as possible to go over the country, rather than through it; its aspirations, as we see clearly in the example of our modern freeways, is to be a bridge; its tendency is to translate place into space in order to traverse it with the least effort. It is destructive, seeking to remove or destroy all obstacles in its way. The primitive road advanced by the destruction of the forest; modern roads advance by the destruction of topography” (p. 12).
When I read this, the Scripture that immediately came to mind is Matthew 7:13-14:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
When I’ve reflected on this passage, I’ve always thought about the two roads but if a narrow road is more like a path–then Berry’s words provoke me to think more deeply about Jesus’ teaching. A narrow road or path is more intimate, more humble, more in contour with the landscape–the way and means with which God has called us to live. Following a narrow path calls us into the unknown, a sense of expectation and exploration, a need to pay attention and be mindful, a willingness to change direction and adapt.
A wide road requires none of these things. On a wide road we can venture forward relatively mindlessly and follow the masses. We travel faster, a mindless wake of pollution following us. On a road, we rarely look back. The isolation of the speed makes it easy for us to lose track of our values–what’s truly important, as well as our relationship with God and each other. We find ourselves more disconnected with each other and the land. Such a road can only lead to destruction.
Jesus, help me to rediscover the path and the intimacy with you naturally occurs when we choose to embrace the windier, quieter, more mysterious faith journey. Give me strength and wisdom to resist the wide road that seems faster and more efficient. May I choose to follow you today and every day. Amen.