Outside the library at St. John’s Abbey and College is a sign on the green lawn that’s not the expected “Don’t Walk on the Grass” but instead, “Don’t Make Paths.” As long as you don’t beat the grass into paths by always taking the same shortcut, you may walk on the grass.
That got me thinking about our brains. We can beat worn paths in our brains by always thinking the same thoughts and feeling the same feelings. The word “resentment” means to feel all over and over again. The paths turn into ruts. We can develop “categorical sclerosis,” the hardening of the categories.
So this year I’m going to aim at this: Trying some new ways of thinking and feeling, rerouting my brain paths. Our social media platforms keep feeding us what we already think and prefer. I’m trying some new pathways.
One of my favorite books is Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. It tells of a summer in the life of a boy named Douglass in the year 1928. It begins with Douglass going to Sanderson’s Shoe Emporium to buy his new pair of sneakers. He looked forward to this every year when winter became spring and he could discard his heavy winter boots and put on his new sneakers.
On one day as the summer approached, he got a new tablet of writing paper and a new yellow Ticonderoga pencil. He divided the tablet into two sections. The first was called “Rites and Ceremonies.” These were the things that happened every year, like his new sneakers, the first root beer pop, the first time running across the grass barefoot, and helping his father in the cellar making dandelion wine.
The second section he labeled “Discoveries and Revelations.” These included the brand-new discoveries during the summer and new realizations — that is, new revelations about things he had experienced before. For example, about the making of dandelion wine he put down: “Every time you bottle it, you get a whole chunk of 1928 put away safe.”
Under Rites and Ceremonies he put down, “First argument and licking of Summer 1928 by Dad.” And under Discoveries and Revelations he wrote, “The reason why grownups and kids fight is because they belong to separate races.”
“Record the Rites and Ceremonies that make your life sweeter and richer, the things that give meaning and bring joy.”
So, let’s start our own notebooks, at least in our minds. Record the Rites and Ceremonies that make your life sweeter and richer, the things that give meaning and bring joy. The birthdays and anniversaries. That first glorious walk in the spring or in the fall as the beauty unfolds. The gift of the Christian year which sometimes redeems the calendar year as it circles around the life of Christ : Advent, Christmas, Epiphany and all its “showings forth,” Lent, Easter, Pentecost and the train of other feast days leading us to the next Advent. And what about all the Discoveries and Revelations as God opens the “eyes of our eyes” and “the ears of our ears,” as we venture along new paths?
The Year of our Lord 2021 will certainly bring some challenges that are harder than we hope, but let’s “redeem the time” as we open our tablets to Rites and Ceremonies and Discoveries and Revelations.
Stephen Shoemaker is pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Statesville, N.C. He served previously as pastor of Myers Park Baptist in Charlotte, N.C.; Broadway Baptist in Fort Worth, Texas, and Crescent Hill Baptist in Louisville, Ky.