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The Journey Stick

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Near the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains there stands a retreat center called King’s Fold. A winding road through rolling hills and wooded ranch land will lead you there. When you arrive, you are greeted by pure fresh air, songbirds, and the smell of pine. Hospitality quickly relieves you of worldly concerns and invites your soul to define your time on this holy ground.

Each year the clergy of the Canadian District of the Moravian Church meet there to renew their spirits and their commitment to ministry during a Cup of Covenant Retreat. King’s Fold is set on a bluff that overlooks a deep gorge carved out by the Ghost River, with the Rocky Mountains in the distance. Every spring, when the mountain snow melts, the river valley floods carving away more of the riverbank, carrying forty-foot pine trees in its current. But by September, when Cup of Covenant is celebrated, the river has receded to a mighty stream of ice-cold water that can sweep you off your feet if you dare to wade in. The soil of the riverbed is washed away leaving a scramble of rocks to explore.

I believe it was 2006 (maybe 2007) when I took my annual hike to the river with an agenda in mind – find a talking-stick; a stick used in First Nations tradition when participating in a talking circle, spiritual/privileged sharing. The problem with having an agenda when on a spiritual quest is that your soul is not necessarily open to what Divine Wisdom has to offer. I did not find a talking-stick. What I found instead was a huge pine tree lying on the rocks with its twisted roots drying in the sun. Without knowing why, I found a root that was nearly severed from the tree, tore it free, and took it back to my room.

After a time of contemplation, I called it a journey stick. It had spent its life seeking out nourishment for the tree. The task was not an easy one as the root needed to maneuver around all the rocks that stood in its way. I was struck by how symbolic this was for human life. Life is not without obstacles and it is the obstacles that help us to mature spiritually. Obstacles slow us down so we might savor the holiness of life.

The Journey Stick | Photo courtesy of Rev. Rick Beck.

This Journey Stick has appeared at many retreats that I have led. I invite people to hold the stick, find the place on the stick that represents where they are on their faith journey and talk about it. It is amazing how powerful this experience is. People from around the Moravian world have had this stick in their hands and have been deeply moved. The first thing you will notice is how light it feels in your hands. It’s also very pliable. The bark is washed away leaving the surface smooth except for sharp little points where hair-roots once grew.

I wish you could experience the journey stick in person. I would love to accompany you as your soul blossoms in conversation with it. All I can do is invite you to hold its image in your heart. Feel the weight and texture of it in your imagination. What part of the journey stick speaks to you? What does it teach you about yourself – your journey? What might you say to God about this insight? What might God want to say to you?

Set your agenda aside and enjoy the journey.

About the Author

Rev. Rick Beck, retired Moravian pastor having served in team ministry with his wife Wendy in all three districts of the Northern Province of the Moravian Church in North America.  Rick is currently offering spiritual direction through the FCJ Christian Life Centre in Calgary, Alberta where he also trains and supervises spiritual directors.  He also consults churches wishing to establish spiritual direction groups in their congregations.

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