We step over rocks and twigs littering a weedy section of an old trail near Highway 86 in Eastern Oregon. A couple of dented tin markers rattling in a sudden hot gust indicate that this is, in fact, part of the official Oregon Trail.
Only two other people stop and join my husband and me in this isolated spot. They look around a bit, read the markers, and leave, heading for the air-conditioned, life-sized replicas of various elements of the Trail in the elegant interpretive center atop nearby Flagstaff Hill.
We stay, however, awed by this fragment of the sage-strewn, sun-scorched ground that led to a new life for tens of thousands, a trail carved a century and a half ago through virgin prairies, formidable mountains, accidents, and disease, yet a trail fueled with hope.
Some of the pioneers neared travel’s end right here on this rise overlooking a valley green with promise. Others turned north or south to conclude their journeys. Many, however, didn’t make it this far; they died en route. Historians tell us their makeshift memorials bordered the length of the Trail an average of every eighty yards.
It brings to mind a scene that came to mind’s eye once. It goes like this. Two travelers are walking along a path at noon, not unlike this path, this noon: hot, dusty, desolate. My view of them is from a short distance behind. From time to time, the one on the right falls down and the one on the left helps him up. At length, after many falls and helps-up, the traveler on the right waves off his companion. “Thanks,” he seems to say with this gesture, “but no thanks. I don’t want to continue.” The other, with some reluctance, moves on.
In a spiritual sense, I realize I am at various times each traveler. As the one on the right, I fall many times and the one to my left helps me up if I let him. Positioned on the left, I extend a helping hand to my fallen comrade on the right. If he or she refuses, I can do nothing more. In a spiritual sense, this scene reminds me of how we need each other, how we need the fellowship, counsel, wisdom, and guidance of other members of the Body of Christ. It reminds me of how we need Jesus.
Each of us, at times, travels uncertain roads, fords fear, and challenges mountains, but as believers we don’t have to journey alone. Like the pioneers who banded together to complete their often treacherous trek, Jesus helps us and we assist each other in our spiritual quest, failure marked only by our refusal of that help.
“But they that wait (are bound together with) the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 4:31, KJV).
Take a hand today?
Note: photo of the Oregon Trail ruts has been placed in the public domain by the photographer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:OregonTrailRutsPhilKonstantin.jpg