A cairn is a man-made pile (or stack) of stones raised for a purpose, usually as a trail marker or as a burial mound. The word cairn comes from the Scottish Gaelic: càrn
A few years ago, I spent a week in the wilderness up North Colony canyon in the Sangre De Cristo range in Colorado. Traveling on Rainbow Trail across the base of Humboldt Mountain and then following a faint trail up North Colony creek. Several miles up the drainage, as elevation is gained, you find yourself above timberline and a vast alpine valley stretches before you. A patchwork of waist-high willows, tall mountain grasses, and lots of talus rock. The trail disappears into the rockslides and yet you know that there are several small alpine lakes up the valley to the back of the cirque.
That’s when you have to look for the cairns.
If you want to fish the last lake that is carved out of the side of the mountain slope at nearly thirteen thousand feet above sea level, you have to follow the cairns that have been placed in the talus fields. It is an exercise in patience to stand and scan the tawny stones in the distance to spy the stacks of stones marking the way others have traveled in the past.
If you are patient and follow the cairns to the upper bench lake, you will find rest for your soul—and cutthroat trout. Lots of trout.
I have always loved what the ancient prophet Jeremiah tells us in one of his writings.
“Thus says the Lord, ‘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
Stand. What an interesting place to start. In other words, seeking God’s direction starts by stopping. Just stand. Be still. Be present, fully present. Be present first to God within you and then to God around you. Or, in other words, show up. Show up with God and show up with others. That’s where it all begins.
Look. Stand at the crossroads and look. Pay attention. Look for God. Look deeply for him in whatever, or whoever might be in front of you at the moment. Look past the surface. Look into the depths of your heart and soul, as well as your world. Search. Seek. Seek him in all things, you never know who or what he might use to speak to you.
Ask. Specifically, ask God. Ask God, “What are you up to? What are you up to within me? What are you up to around me? What are you up to in this circumstance? What are you up to in the life of the person in front of me?” Ask.
Ask for the ancient paths. The cairns in North Colony are sometimes shy and hard to find. The markers for the ancient path can be the same way—hard to find in our modern world. But once found, those ancient paths are well-worn paths that lead straight to the heart of God. Those paths that multitudes of other saints, poets, and pilgrims have traveled well before us. In fact, whenever you see someone walking deeply and intimately with God you need to take note because that person has found these ancient paths, and watching them can show you the way into the heart of God. They include things like solitude, silence, prayer, and Scripture. All of these things are part of the good way.
Walk. And finally, once you have stood and looked and asked, it is time to move. Walk in it is the phrase Jeremiah uses. Walk in the good way, whatever that may mean. For once we have received our direction and guidance from God, it is time to enter into whatever he is doing. It is time to move toward him, and his work, whatever that may be. Sometimes it will mean speaking a word he has given us to speak, and at others, it will mean keeping our mouths shut. Sometimes it will mean simply being present, and others it will mean reaching out to embrace. But whatever it is, you can be sure of its power, substance, and authenticity because it has come directly from his heart and not merely your own.
And the beautiful result of it all is that you will find rest for your soul. What a promise! And isn’t that what we all most deeply long for?