Footsteps, Foot Races, Foot Traces
Prov 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6
1 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? 2 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; 3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: 4 “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. 5 O simple ones, learn prudence; acquire intelligence, you who lack it. 6 Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right; 7 for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips. 8 All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them. 19 My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver. 20 I walk in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice, 21 endowing with wealth those who love me, and filling their treasuries.
To those without sense she says, 5 “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. 6 Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
We have come now to end of the Lenten season and how far have we traveled these last 40 days? Traveling I say in the spiritual reflection that the weeks past have brought us thus far. Our spiritual journeys take us to places where we sometimes get discouraged and then encouraged, where we develop and describe for ourself and others the anticipated hope that comes with the season, where we can learn to discern what the will of God is for each of us. For some, that means forward-moving growth; for others that means backward-tracing growth. And because we are children of God, we can do both types of growth at the same time. The positions and stations we have in life carry us across time and space, each of us completing life’s foot race. The journeys that each of us have taken have left footprints and foot traces both physically and metaphorically.
Footprints are points in time. The footprints we make and the footprints we follow matter. Let’s think about the footprints that Jesus made while He walked the earth that last day before He was placed in the tomb. Let’s think about the footprints that Wisdom has left for us to follow. Let’s think about the footprints to be made still, in spreading and (most of all!) living the Gospel. We’ve taken this year’s spiritual journey towards renewal so that our lives going forward sprout the new growth that comes each spring, the new growth that comes from the wisdom of God. How do we continue to develop the wisdom promised within us so that the spirit of God carries on? This is the continuous journey that each of us takes individually so that we could share collectively.
There are often many things happening in our busy lives, all at once, or compounded upon other things. How do you cope with the things on a daily basis? The foot races that we must compete in life require us to maintain our conditioning so that we can finish the race. In the traditional setting before western contact, my people, Akimal O’otham, were able to keep in touch with each other from village to village because they had runners who would run from one community to another. Some would run to other places that would take them more than a day. Part of the conditioning and training for this required dedication to the task, running. There would have been foot races to test speed and endurance. The minds and memories of the runners would have to keep straight and in order all the communications that they were sent to deliver in the first place. They would have picked up additional news to share as they traveled from one place to the next. Their spirits would have to be enlightened with wisdom so they could complete the foot race. Running through the desert for long periods required vigilance over the environment. The cacti or the snakes or other animals had to always be considered while running along. If the runner started the footrace with a low spirit or low countenance, their awareness of their environment is hampered.
The foot races we find ourselves in, in today’s world, require us to maintain our connection to Jesus so that Wisdom can carry us along. The important concept for the O’otham runners is to be consistent with their progress. Our spiritual growth happens in a similar manner. The foot races in our lives are necessary so we can communicate with others, whether to impart the wisdom we’ve gathered or to receive wisdom from others. Our spiritual growth requires us to keep training-reading the Bible-so that the Word of God comes to us quickly and naturally upon our first thoughts. Our spiritual growth requires us to manage our thoughts, so that the vigilance required to receive wisdom, is heightened and enlightened. So as the traditional runners did their duty those many years ago, we too, as children of God are able to carry on in this footrace called life. We carry on in the footrace with uplifted spirits, knowing that Wisdom continually guides us, as told to us in Prov 8:6-Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.
This is our hope during the time of spiritual discernment that we take each year during Lent. The call, indeed, the demand from Wisdom is that we partake of Her fruit regularly and routinely (i.e., daily!) so that our growth in Christ compounds year over year. During Lent, some take this time to give up certain items, whether dietary or activity. Others take this time to do daily affirmations and other gestures or actions of grace and mercy. Lenten spiritual reflection and meditation reminds us where Jesus was and what He was doing during this season so we can place ourselves in a position of gratitude overall. How do you position yourself for the gratitude that is in, and of and from Christ? Where, when, and why do you express the gratitude of what the season is all about? The answers to these types of questions are what Wisdom wants us to make as our life-long pursuit.
Our ancestors made the relationship with our Creator of utmost importance in our daily lives and this direct connection with Creator God has sustained us as Native people because of the commitment to following the spiritual teachings. These spiritual teachings were unwelcome (and outlawed) by western culture over several hundred years of annihilation, deculturalization and assimilation that Native people in this country have experienced. And yet, our continuity in and for the world remains. Jesus Christ continues to meet us where we are in our spiritual growth and discernment. His delight in our growth shines through in the form of Wisdom.
Proverbs 8:2 describes Wisdom on Her journey towards each one of us. This is an active journey that we should take into consideration. Wisdom climbs mountains, goes alongside the roads, and paths, waits for us at (life’s) crossroads. Our Lenten pathway has been a season of self-generation (faith awareness), self-developing (faith strengthening) and self-renewal (faith continuing). Over the last almost 2000 years, the continuity of our worship during this season allows us to maintain a collective sense of connection with our Christian family, our ancestors who left their foot traces for us to follow. This connection helps us to build anew and rebuild what was broken in our spiritual journey because we have foot traces to remind us that we aren’t alone. We can be reasonably assured that others whose foot traces have been placed before ours have gone through similar journeys too. These foot traces that Wisdom leaves for us are good and plentiful, clear so that our way is clear, and purposeful so that our work for the Lord is purposeful. The foot traces remind us that our (spiritual) journeys to receive Wisdom must remain intentional and active.
In John 20:2 and 20:18, the text describes Mary at the tomb of Jesus. Here we can imagine the foot traces that Mary made during this encounter. V. 2 tells us that Mary ran when she found the tomb opened. V. 18 tells us that she went to tell the disciples with the things that Jesus had told her. I will surmise that she could see from a distance that the tomb was opened, and so her foot traces as she ran, would have been intentional and purposeful. These foot traces would have shown a long stride (running) with strong landing to be able to spring forward into the next step. In v. 18 what kind of foot trace do you think she left, upon seeing and hearing Jesus after He arose from the tomb? The verses tell us she had been crying, not knowing where He was. And then, the exhilaration and relief and joy and love and gratitude that would have poured forth from her upon seeing and speaking with Jesus. These foot traces that Mary made are to be humbly replayed in our spirits and in our minds and in our bodies. The spiritual journeys during our walk with Christ, across our lifetimes require us to maintain the vigilance, the resilience, the joy, the awe and the wonder that we have practiced during Lent.
Rejoice, brothers and sisters! We have footprints, foot races and foot traces to remind us that our journeys are connected, continuous and complete on the path towards wisdom, seeking justice and righteousness, for the glory of God. I hope your Lenten season has been one of further growth and wonder so that this time next year, your journey will have been expounded upon from this point forward.
Charlotte Fafard, Commissioned Pastor, is an enrolled member of the Gila River Pima Maricopa Indian Community (Akimal O’otham = Desert People). She serves the Lower Santan Presbyterian Church in Gila River. She also serves the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, at their Presbyterian chapel, and assists with pulpit supply at Sacaton First Presbyterian church in Gila River. She is widowed, with two adult sons, 3 dogs, 1 cat and 3 zebra finches.