Walk the White Line
I was not very far into my run/walk yesterday, when I noticed them. It was a gorgeous fall day. It was warm, the sun shone brilliantly in the sky and the leaves are turning multiple colors. It was a good day to be alive and to be outside. Besides it was more fun than reading and grading papers!
I noticed ahead of me on the other side of the road a bunch of kids and two adults. They were just emerging from a yard and were coming toward me on the side of the road that has no sidewalk. It is not a hugely traveled road, but there are quite a few cars and the road is relatively narrow. From what I was guessing, there were two mothers and five kids as I differentiated the pack unfolding one person at a time.
Naturally, the kids bolted to the front, forming a single line to include the mothers at the tail of the line. I was not paying close attention as I loped along in my own little world. But then I heard these words from one of the kids: “Walk the white line.” Those words jolted me back into consciousness of the seven pilgrims on the other side of the road as they approached. Indeed, I saw the white line they were now to walk.
The white line is the normal line painted along the side of the road to indicate to the driver where the road leaves off and the ditch---or whatever is at the side of the road---begins. Any of us who drive know well the white line. It is so omnipresent, I never even think about it. But we all know the experience of being on a country road on a very dark night and discovering there is no white line! Black asphalt in a black night is tricky! Thanks be to white lines!
The minute the kid called out, “Walk the White Line,” I knew the theme and title for this reflection. It was a clever move on his or her part (I had no recollection whether it was a girl or boy’s voice that offer the sage orders for the others). I don’t know whether it was the kid in front…or one of them in the middle…or the fifth kid. I do know it was not one of the adults.
And I knew all of this was a powerful metaphor for the spiritual journey. Probably most of us are aware that “journey” is a timeworn metaphor for our spiritual life. Of course, no one lives an entire life in a day. Life is constituted by many days---usually thousands of days. Indeed someone who lives to be 100 will live through more than 36,000 days! I am not there yet!
So life is a journey and so is spirituality. I like the Latin word for journey; it is via. A via is a journey, a path, a road, a way---a way of life. Of course, we get English words from this, like “viable,” which means there is a way! So when the kid called out, “Walk the White Line,” he or she was offering a viable way for the troop to proceed without being run over by a car.
I want to use that line as an analogy for our spiritual journeys. I suspect it is typical for our spiritual journey to have a white line. Sometimes the white line may include the scripture of the tradition. In the case of my own Christianity, I think the gospels are key. Jesus calls out, “love your enemies.” That’s a white line. If you follow the Christian via, then you are to love your enemies. If you are Christian, you can add details.
Another white line comes with our various traditions. My own Quaker tradition has several “testimonies” which are offered as white lines. We have a testimony about peacemaking. We are supposed to look for those occasions that take away possibilities of war and enmity. For me this means to pay attention and not provoke people. It means I am supposed to me a reconciler rather than a troublemaker. There is another testimony on simplicity. If I walk the Quaker white line, I am not supposed to be into greed, accumulating, and selfish hoarding of anything. I am to live simply. I have more difficulty with time than I do material goods. As an American, I live fairly simply. But one look at my schedule---at being too busy---and no one in his or her right mind can conclude I live a simple life. I have strayed from the white line. I may be in danger of being run over!
If we walk the white line, it is not a guarantee that we will never come into harm’s way. The kids walking the white line yesterday did not assure them they were absolutely safe in the face of the passing cars. But they were on the right path. They had opted for a viable way.
I was intrigued by the kid’s foresight and leadership. It could have been “every kid for himself or herself.” But the little leader took responsibility for safety and the wellbeing of the others. He or she stepped up and spoke out. Blessed be the spiritual leaders. We don’t have to be the oldest, the most educated, nor at the head of the line.
We do need to be aware, creative, and ready to serve. Usually there is a white line. Let us have the audacity to tell others to walk the white line!