The Path of God
October 30, 2005
Arlene Bougher, Lay Speaker
Montgomery United Methodist Church
James 5: 10-11
10Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. 11 All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the LORD had brought upon him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.
Good morning. The title of today’s message is The Path of God. It is about a journey of perseverance and unexpected rewards.
One warm Friday in May of this year, my husband and I woke up in a dream. The view from our balcony was the sun- sparkled waters of the Bay of Naples. Across the bay, Mount Vesuvius and somewhere below it, the excavated ruins of Pompeii- the very reason we were drawn to this walking tour along the Amalfi coast in Italy.
After two wonderful days on our own, exploring Napoli, and its museums and restaurants, we found ourselves on the first leg of our group tour, hiking up steep steps in the forested mountains on the Isle of Capri, or Cop’ri as the Italians say, named after the wild goats who at one time were the sole population of the island.
Making it to the top of perhaps a half-mile of steps, we were exhausted and famished. Revelation: I wasn’t as fit as I thought I was. But an invitation from, our guide, for a not to be missed magnificent view, dragged a few of us off the high stone wall where we were sitting. My camera in tow, I walked down what seemed like too many brick steps until I looked down and saw it, an almost hidden, beautiful grotto. The enlarged photo of the gorgeous aqua sea far below me, seen through an ancient stone arch is a treasure that now hangs on our family room wall.
The next morning, all 14 of us packed up the tour vans for the second leg of our trip. It was going to be an exciting day! A hike to the top of Mt. Vesuvius and a few hours exploring the beauty of the murals, mosaics and architecture of Pompeii. “A chance to recover from the climb on Capri.” I thought. After all Mt.Vesuvio, has a steep incline-but it does not have steps!
We finished the day’s tours happy and tired, our pockets filled with purchases of post cards and small volcanic rocks.
Our next destination was Furore, a beautiful mountain village overlooking the sea. The view from our hotel was stunning; brilliant orange tile roofs below us and on down the mountainside. The terraces and walls of the houses were dripping with vines and flowers down to the water’s edge of the Amalfi coast, which is considered the most breathtaking scenery in the world.
The following morning our guides, both seasoned hikers, would take us down many steps, through a village, to the tiny Fiordo di Furore, a small protected fishing cove at the bottom of the mountain. After a wonderful Italian breakfast of pastries, fruit and cheese, the walk began.
Immediately I saw a problem. The stone steps were exceptionally steep and deep and broad. Not being a tall person, I had to think about how to maneuver each step. Then we found every set of steps, going down for more than a mile, was of a different height and depth, so that you couldn’t get a rhythm going. Each family enroot had built the steps beside their dwellings to their own specifications. We felt the need to balance ourselves by holding on to rails and the walls of houses. Later we were told the steps were made for donkeys! We had little view on the way down except for small back yards filled with lemon tree arbors and the rough stucco walls of the houses.
Less than half a mile down I began to feel a growing ache that graduated to a strong pain in the muscles of my legs. But there was no turning back.
The steps led down to switchback paths, then more steps and more switchback paths and more steps, all of which were closed off from the main road where our van was left for us.
The last of the steep steps were excruciating. Our path down was carved out of rough rock and tree roots. In our pain, we held on to saplings and jutting rock for balance. There was no way anyone of us could have prepared for the torturous mile and a quarter down donkey steps to the fiord below. Finally reaching the bottom, we all smiled through our tremendous muscle pain. To add to my discomfort, my ankles were swollen and I hurt so bad that I couldn’t bend to untie my shoes. Just at that moment, I turned to see a family of four beaching a colorful rowing boat.
The few Italian words I’d studied did not include “Can I sit on your boat to take off my shoes please?” But my forefinger worked just as well as I pointed to the boat and then my shoes. The pretty Italian mother of two said in English “Obviously.”
Sitting barefoot on the boat, I noticed a small stone on the pebble beach near the water. On the bottom side it was rough and gray. If it had been upside down I wouldn’t have noticed it. The other side was pure white and sparkled in the sun. The stone was so odd I had to look at it a few seconds to assure myself that it was natural and not painted.
A second thing was odd about this stone. On the white side, in a third color, there was an inset in the shape of a tree or a cross. I knew my pain was nothing like Job’s but I imagined at that moment, this was my gift for all my suffering.
I put the stone in my pocket and my feet in the cold water. But the brief moment of reward was soon over. It was time for lunch and there was no way out but up. I could see our tour van on the suspension bridge ľ of a mile above us. I would indeed need the patience and perseverance of Job before this trek ended and lunch began!
That evening, still in pain, feet up on the headboard in the hotel to reduce the swelling in my ankles, I contemplated the walk tomorrow. Could I do it? All those country walks in the mornings or pounding the treadmill, didn’t seem to help me today. This would be a long hike across the high ridges of the Amalfi Coast.
Wednesday morning came. We left Furore and traveled further up the mountains to the small beautiful established town of Agerola. We filled our water bottles from the public spigot in the square where older men sat playing chess. Our muscles still aching, we were ready. Nothing could be worse than the donkey steps. On the side of the town square to our left, we saw private houses and a dirt lane. On that corner stood a pole with wooden directional signs. The top one pointed down the lane, toward our destination, one of the highest ridges on the coast. Translated from the Italian, the sign read The Path of the Gods. That sounded good to me! I made up my mind this was going to be an adventure!
We began on wooded trails that broke through to rocky ledges. We walked down narrow hairpin paths, climbed up small granite boulders, and scrambled down to rock-strewn ledges. The view was awe-inspiring. At the edge of our unprotected path, the mountain dropped off to deep green valleys and gorges that ran straight into the sea of Tirreno, miles below us. Small terraced vineyards were carved into side of the mountains as they have been for centuries. I was so filled with wonder and ecstatic energy I could look beyond my pain- no; almost forget it, in the midst of the beauty of God’s creation.
Our walk ended after almost three hours of hiking on this coastal ridge. We reached the village Nocelle simultaneously exhilarated and exhausted.
Through our pain we continued to glory in God’s creation. A few days later the tour was over. We said our goodbyes and left for Rome. As my husband and I began to heal, we found our endurance had made us stronger. We could run up the Spanish Steps, while others labored to walk behind us. We were egger to tour all that was possible in our short day and a half stay in Rome.
Like Job, we were rewarded twice over for our suffering. For weeks the effects of extending ourselves beyond our perception of our limits, made everything seem easy.
That’s the same effect as the Holy Spirit in our lives, the hand of the Lord touching us through our pain and sadness, our personal Path of God. Christ can lift us beyond our perception of our capabilities. We can look beyond our own pain, to a higher and more meaningful faith journey. The Lord has rewards for you. In my life, He has helped me to work through fears and anxieties. In your life it may be just the wonder of knowing He loves more than you can comprehend.
This week I invite you to contemplate the obstacles in your life and if you think you have nowhere else to turn, I urge you to keep climbing and take the path of God.
God loves you more than you know!
Have a wonderful week.
© 2005 Arlene Bougher