This past year, I’ve been using C.S. Lewis’ anthology of selections from the writings of George MacDonald as my morning devotion. Mom gave me a copy of this book years ago, and this is probably the third time I’ve read through it. Here is a link that tells about MacDonald and his influence on Lewis.
Yesterday it happened that I read selection 305:
It often seems to those in earnest about the right as if all things conspired to prevent their progress.
This, of course, is but an appearance, arising in part from this, that the pilgrim must be headed back from the side-paths into which he is constantly wandering.
There is a core thing I am learning (the hard way) about living on God’s path:
Pay attention, both outwardly and inwardly,
acknowledge when, in either realm,
I observe something which seems not as it ought to be,
and then center down
and wait for clearness
about what is the next thing to do.
Not the whole solution,
just the next thing.
It is a scary approach to life. It feels as if it runs counter to our biologically hard-wired instincts of self-protection.
In fact, though, it is a way to freedom.
What human consciousness adds to our inbred animal wisdom is the ability to imagine and plan—yet it also adds, on the dark side, the ability to worry and despair.
Animals just do the next thing. God has created them to do the best next thing instinctively.
God has created us the same way as well. Our added gift of consciousness enables us to avoid anticipated dangers and to redirect our paths toward promise. Yet consciousness also distracts us from what God would show us, were we attending.
Human animals are no different than other animals in one sense: we can only put one foot on the path at a time.
My sense is that MacDonald is writing about how, very frequently, we get distracted onto these side-paths and need to stop, center down, remember that God is present with us, and wait until we once again see the light we were following and take another step in that direction.
The New Testament Greek word which is usually translated as “sin” is ἁμαρτία (hamartía). Is is more accurately translated as “missing the mark,” as one does in archery when one’s aim is distracted.
Ever since I learned this in early 1970s, I have made that substitution in my own thinking. Rather than obsess over “sin” as a moral failure, I challenge myself to note as soon as possible—sometimes just with chagrin, and sometimes with shame, repentance and amends-making—whenever I have “missed the mark,” either through inattention and distraction, or through willfully looking toward the wrong target.
Difficulties call my attention to my missing of the mark.
They don’t necessarily show me how to aim correctly. Resuming MacDonald’s metaphor, they don’t necessarily show me the easiest way back to the path.
Yet if it becomes my habit to stop, center down, remember that God is present, and wait, it usually happens that I notice God’s light shining on the next step.
And so it is.