Moab, UT—At the trailhead in Arches National Park, my daughter and I launch our hike on a relatively benign dirt path, easily followed, marked with a metal sign.
As we move toward Delicate Arch, an amazing natural stone structure carved by wind and erosion over centuries, the path takes us across an open space, sloping steadily upward, paved with nearly unbroken layer of flat red rock. The trail, worn by countless hiking boots, cannot be seen clearly—although in some spots, the path is a slightly lighter shade than the acres of flat red rock surrounding it.
There are no metal signs anymore. We find our way, because hikers before us have built cairns to mark the path. Cairns are small piles of rock, set along the path. They do not tell you which trail you’re on, or have an arrow pointing out a direction. They simply mark the path. Over a long open area, we can see more than one cairn, and so make our way from one to the next. In Arches, they are particularly poetic, mimicking in miniature the ancient naturally balanced stone formations for which the park is famous.
Cairns are not permanent. Anyone could easily dissemble them. But there is a camaraderie of hikers on a shared mission. Although we’ve never met the people who assembled these small structures, we trust them. Following them requires that we pay attention. They simply let you know you’re on the path, but don’t necessarily direct you. Still, we follow and protect these markers, like a trail of breadcrumbs that birds cannot eat.
And where we can, we build some—contributing to the collective wisdom of hikers, showing others the way. (Sam Van Eman wrote a great post over at The High Calling blog on how using our voice and wisdom can make us “human cairns” for one another.)
These sweet small piles of flat stones, balanced like a child’s building blocks, provide a picture of my purpose. I want to guide others on the journey of faith, to be a spiritual mentor. But I cannot take the journey for others, or carry them. But I can build cairns—small markers that point the way. And as Sam points out in his essay, I can be a cairn for others by fearlessly sharing wisdom, using my voice.
God has called me to guide others in their spiritual formation—to teach and write about spiritual practices that will help them to grow. To invite them into an adventure of discovering the path. To build cairns, to be a cairn.
I see this blog, for example, as a series of cairns, marking the path to a deeper experience of God. Each time others leave a comment or insight, they place another rock on that particular cairn. My vision is for this blog to become a place of community where we can travel together, to find the beauty that the path leads us to. How about you? Who’s traveled before you to build cairns for you? Who are you building cairns for, or being a cairn for? We all need guidance on the journey if we are to find our way.