Psalm 1 is the lectionary reading this week as the church moves through the waning Sundays following Pentecost to the glad season of Advent. This psalm sounds like a beatitude or at least a section of “wisdom literature” as it lays out guidance for righteous living. There are two ways to live one’s life—happy or wicked, according to the opposing pathways outlined here. It portrays a rather stark contrast, a bit like Frost’s lovely poetry: “two roads diverged in a yellow wood…and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” In Scripture, the path of righteousness is the one less traveled, the narrow way, as Jesus puts it.
This pathway is lighted by the “law of the Lord,” God’s own instruction about how to walk. The pathway avoids the varied “byways” as Bunyan described them—routes that lead to scoffing, barrenness, and ultimate destruction. One is judged, finally, by the pathway one pursues. How does one discern direction or find course correction in this all important human vocation?
Thomas Merton sharpens and focuses this dilemma in his well-known prayer from Thoughts in Solitude:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you…And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road…
Traveling the right pathway depends upon an ongoing conversation with the One who travels with us, who never leaves us or forsakes us. The desire to please God does please God, and
God will watch over the way of the righteous. The pathway may take some unexpected turns, but we will not be left to “face our perils alone,” as Merton puts it. We can trust such companioning guidance all the days of our lives.
Molly T. Marshall