We don’t have a fenced in backyard, so for the last two-and-a-half years we take Denali out on a leash each time she needs to go out. Since I’m usually up first, I take her out most mornings. We go out the basement door, cross the deck and into the backyard. Often I just stare into the yard because I’m still half asleep. Sometimes I glance up into the trees and happen to see the moon low in the sky. Occasionally I’ll turn around and look at our house behind me, still quiet and dark. Then, when I remember, I look up, toward the eastern sky. I look up to see the glow of the sunrise. I look up to see the stars. I look up and see the moon. Today, that’s what I saw. I remembered and I looked up and I wasn’t disappointed. There, in the clear dark sky, was the moon shining in all her glory surrounded by stars and constellations. I had to turn around to see it.
Last fall I spent a week at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. One day I went out to hike Box Canyon Trail, but it didn’t go as planned. (You can read the full story here and here.) I don’t know how many times I turned around trying to find the trailhead. I went down one path and that was a dead end, so I turned around. I went down another path and turned around. Up and down I went on this road and no path was found. I finally had no choice but to return from where I came. Upon doing so, I was reminded of a different trail and decided to take it instead.
The only way I got to this new place was by turning around. I had to retrace my steps. I had to discover what I missed the first time. I had to reevaluate my initial plan and make a new one. I had to be open and flexible to what was in front of me and behind me. I had to turn around.
During this season of Lent there is a lot of talk about repentance. “Repent for the kingdom of God is near!” Repent simply means to turn around. To repent means I acknowledge that this current path isn’t working out very well. To repent means to turn around and go a new way. It might be the way I came from. Or, it might be a few degrees to the left or the right from that path. It might be the same path but then, after walking awhile, I discover some smaller path I missed the first time through.
To repent means I’m acknowledging there’s a better way. To repent means I’m open and ready for something new, something more life-giving, something more.
Sometimes I forget there are other options. Sometimes I forget there are other paths. Sometimes I forget there are other views and other perspectives.
When I first started to look toward the east in the morning, I would berate myself for not looking that direction the day before: Just think what you probably missed yesterday because you forgot to look this way! Instead of appreciating what I saw in that moment, I would feel bad about what I might have seen another time. That doesn’t make any sense! That is unhelpful thinking. That thinking is keeping me from the current, beautiful, present moment.
There are moments in my past when I should have repented – when I should have turned around. But, I didn’t. That wasn’t a choice I thought to make or wanted to make at that time. I could beat myself up about it (and I have) but that’s not helpful. I can’t change those choices. However, I can pay attention to today and be aware of opportunities to repent today – chances to turn around today. Just being aware changes everything. I’m not aware every day, every moment, and that’s okay. I just have to keep bringing it back to mind and the more I do it, the more it becomes a part of who I am – one who turns around when the path just doesn’t work out anymore, one who turns around and retraces her steps, one who is kind when she forgets turning around is an option.
This morning I turned and saw beauty behind me. The thing is, there was beauty in front of me too. No matter which way I look, beauty is present, God is there.