July 2022

'Ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it'

Jeremiah 6.16: (NIV)

This verse and much of Jeremiah, is about God’s will and how it intersects with ours.  Here the unruly Israelites are shown how to discern God’s plans: ‘This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, 'We will not walk in it.'” ’.

Jeremiah writes as much about our freedom to ignore God’s guidance as he does about listening to it, here recommended as consultation with ‘the ancient paths’: the teachings of previous Jewish writers and lawmakers.  Yet more important than our intellectualisations of God and of free will is Jeremiah’s simple opening.  God asks us to stand still if we really wish to seek and find Him.  He then asks us to look, not to think, speak or move again.  We are simply asked to stand for a while, gazing outwards, away from ourselves.

This is all that contemplative prayer asks of us: to sit in stillness and look at God’s world rather than actively seeking to shape it.  We can see, if we step back from walking on the road, not with the eyes of the mind but of a heart fused to God’s.  He offers Himself as the Divine indwelling, no matter what we may have done or left undone. 

The words of Psalm 46 are some of the most challenging in the Bible for a culture determined to be self-sufficient: ‘ “Be still, and know that I am God” ’ (46:10).  To what purpose shall we silent pray-ers appear to do nothing?  Jeremiah answers: ‘you will find rest’.  Psalm 27: 4 suggests that holy rest is the ultimate creative purpose of our faith and lives:

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

May we seek Him simply, quietly, in our moments of pausing on Jeremiah’s road.  God can be found beside us and also within us, whatever steps we may then take.