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Monk in the World guest post: Valerie Hess

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community.  Read on for Valerie’s wisdom about signposts and ancient practices:

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.

Jeremiah 6:16

I am a signpost. I am called to stand at the crossroads and offer direction and guidance to people. I share what I know of the ancient path to walk on, a good path, a path that leads to rest in their souls that Jeremiah records.

This is not a flashy or “sexy” way to live in the world. While signposts can be in key places of need, they are often rather dull and uninteresting things themselves. People who look at them are also looking past them, seeking to find the road, the directional information they are seeking. The signpost itself is merely functional, pointing to another reality; it is not the reality itself. While they can be iconic, most signposts are not great art, though they often are used to illustrate articles on guidance in life and the like. They can be metaphors for larger realities in the world but for the most part, signposts are there to focus our attention on something else and not on the signpost itself.

I am a signpost. My passion and gifting is teaching the spiritual disciplines to people who have known about God, often for decades, but have had difficulty in knowing God and, therefore, in knowing their true selves. The spiritual disciplines are “hand-holds” on the ladder of life. They can help carry us beyond ourselves, helping us keep our footing in whatever present reality we find ourselves in. They help us navigate rough waters as stars helped ancient mariners find their true course.

Yet, these spiritual disciplines, or holy habits as they are sometimes called, are often hidden or unknown altogether to people of faith. For lots of reasons, mostly due to fear of “works righteousness,” the spiritual disciplines have been neglected since the 1800s  in Protestant circles. Thanks to people like Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, they are being rediscovered. Like a hidden Egyptian tomb, soul archeologists are discovering their treasures and sharing them with others. They are some of the great wonders of the spiritual world: prayer, meditation, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission (a wonderful word that has been horribly misunderstood in modern times), service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration (to quote Richard Foster’s list in his ground-breaking book, “Celebration of Disciplines.”)

I live as a monk in the world as a signpost to these great treasures. I have not unearthed these treasures myself but, like a museum docent, I show them to people, inviting them to embrace them for themselves. I do this through writing, speaking and through teaching graduate students.

Yet, as a signpost, I myself am also in need of being reminded about these practices. I often say, in a semi-joking fashion, that I teach the spiritual disciplines because I, more than anyone in the room, need to be reminded of their power and goodness. I continue to write and speak about them because I am also reminding myself that they are the paving stones on the ancient path and good way that God, through Jeremiah, invites us to.

When I use this Bible verse from Jeremiah to introduce my class to the disciplines, I leave out the last line: “But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” Signposts can be ignored. Stop signs are run, road closure signs are missed, directional signs are ignored. Like you, I see this happen frequently and am guilty of these transgressions myself at times. But just because a signpost is ignored, the value of its message is not negated. The good road is there, whether I choose to walk on it or not.

We need new roads and we need ancient paths. “And Jesus said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.’ (Matt 13:52). Each passageway needs signposts appropriate to its type. Interstate highway signs need to be big, flashy, and multiplied over a number of miles before the exit. Hiking trail signs can be smaller, more rustic and limited in number.

As a monk in the world, I am called to be a signpost to the ancient path that leads towards God. I am small and non-descript but no less valuable because of it. Stand! Look! Ask! Walk! There will be signs along the way.

Valerie Hess low resValerie Hess,, is a musician, instructor in Spring Arbor University’s Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership (MSFL) program, and an author with three books in print.

She is also the Coordinator of Music Ministries for Trinity Lutheran Church in Boulder, Colorado, where she lives with her husband.

Click here to read all the guest posts in the Monk in the World series>>

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14 Responses

  1. So thankful Valerie, for those of you who are strong in their convictions to carry those “sign post” for people, such as myself who need them. Enjoyed your article. Thank you and God Bless you as you continue His work.

  2. Valerie, I love the reminder of bringing more awareness to our signposts. Journaling helps me look back and see where God has led me and is leading me. It is taking that leap of faith, trusting and believeing to feel assured and confident. I have been trying to retire since September and for various circumstances have not yet. It is here I begin to question if the sign posts along the way were somehow missread or is it my insecurities blocking the way. Your message has helped. Thank you for sharing. Spring blessings, Carol

  3. Valerie, I shall be forever grateful for the Spiritual Disciplines class we enjoyed with you as part of MSFL. It is a good thing to have enough self-knowledge to be able to say with confidence, especially using metaphor!, how we view our place in God’s great spiritual economy. If you are a signpost, then I must be…the garage door opener; always lost, seldom works right, and only opens the door to the cold, cluttered building adjacent to the one where we really want to be! And I’m OK with that.

  4. Thank you for your peaceful, hope-filled reflection.This pilgrim spent many years sick and wandering, searching and finding signposts along the way. Sometimes I could see them clearly, but most times another pointed to them for me or affirmed what I experienced as truth. It is hard to see the picture from inside the frame, said someone, once. I listened and though today a guide for others, I am never without my own….spiritual guide, Anam Cara, community. After all…..”we are all just walking each other home,” Ram Dass.

  5. After reading your post yesterday Valerie, I took some time to reflect on your thoughts and your words. Signpost. So “sign”ificant to our call in the world to witness and be witnessed. To make a difference to those we meet along the way. Thank you for your insights. Blessings.

  6. This posting is a great message for me today. I realize when I am in desolation, I cannot be a signpost even for myself, much less others. So take this desolation to prayer that I may be renewed and consoled in order to see the signposts of others as well as be one for myself and others. This morning I am experiencing so much consolation, that the energy and joy abound and this message takes me to an even deeper level in my time of discernment for the next stage of my faith journey.

    1. Yes, Julett, it is hard to be a signpost for others (or ourselves!) when we are tired or confused or grieving. I am thankful for the day’s consolation; may it continue!

  7. Valerie, thank you so much for your insightful words. They make me wonder how “I” am a signpost to others without realizing it? Without remembering about the disciplines, could I be flashing a negative or “love-less” sign to those in my world? Guess that risk goes with the territory of being a human being! Perhaps by paying attention to the signposts around me, I can trust that, with God’s grace, my own messages will be meaningful to others as well. Again …thank you.

    1. Your are welcome, Cynthia. Good questions! I know that when I have forgotten who I am and Whose I am, I do become negative and loveless, flashing wrong messages to others. And yet you are so right: it is risky being human and we will always make mistakes. The goal is to, as the proverb says, fall seven times, get up eight.

      Blessings on your being a signpost where you are!

  8. Thank you for this most lovely and timely writing. I have missed many signposts along the way and have been traveling in the wilderness for a very long time. I have just sold my home in Connecticut after a very difficult 10 year period and am returning to my beloved Virginia for the fourth (!) time. Returning and homecoming both physically and spiritually are major themes for me right now after this prolonged period of exodus. I have begun this journey with a return to Abbey of the Arts and a warm welcoming embrace by my fellow dancing monks. I am grateful for their serving as virtual signposts for me along the way. I am longing to come home.