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  • Ross Moughtin

When we look for signs


“Everyone knows where Dad is except Dad.” So my daughter whatsapped yesterday as I walked Cheshire’s Sandstone Trail with Bella the dog. My loving family were tracking us through the location-sharing facility on Google maps. My early erratic movements showed that we had hardly left Frodsham before getting ridiculously lost. The whole point of walking this well-worn trail was the knowledge that at every twist and turn there would be a prominent yellow sign to show the correct route. Even so I was carrying the OS Sandstone Trail detailed map guide. I had even brought my compass. “Nothing could go wrong!” I thought. Which, of course, meant going wrong became entirely inevitable. The problem was a gap in the signage through Frodsham hill woods, which meant we walked the wrong path to then cross a golf course. (I have since found out that many have made the same mistake.) Moreover, I found the OS map insufficiently detailed to give an exact bearing. However, what really compounded the problem was that we then stumbled on the original starting point of the walk – the Sandstone Trail car park, which I incorrectly assumed was on or very close to the Trail itself. My confusion was heightened by the sight of a Sandstone trail marker, some distance away from the Trail itself. I had to walk another 500m before a kind gardener explained to me what had happened – he knew all about the signage problem. And to the relief of my daughters the little blue dot, representing me and Bella, was soon moving purposefully south. From then, finding the right route was straightforward. It was handy to have the map but the yellow signs did the job – although it was tricky going through Delamere Forest where every path looked the same and it was easy to miss the next sign. But we love signs, they would take the risk out of decision-making. If only life was sign-posted like the Sandstone Trail! You may remember how in the 2003 film, Bruce Almighty, our eponymous hero prays “God, please give me a sign!” just as a truck loaded with danger signs drives passes him – which, of course, he fails to see. As prayers go, “God, give me a sign” must make the Top Ten. We face a decision, not necessarily a major one, and we long for some certainty. “Am I doing the right thing?” And sometimes we are given some God-incidence, usually in confirmation. But more often than not we simply have to work things out for ourselves. One verse from the Psalms has always struck me: “Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.” (Psalm 32:9). I guess many of my fellow disciples would like to be controlled by bit and bridle as God would cue us in the same way a rider cues a horse, by placing pressure in and around its mouth. Entirely responsive, no need to think. But going in the right direction in itself is not the main aim. The main aim for the Holy Spirit working in us is that, in the words of the apostle Paul, “(we) become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13). We learn to discern the voice of God using the resource of scripture and the wisdom of our fellow travellers as we walk the way of the cross. For the key sign is not where to go but who to trust. Jesus was forever being asked to give a sign to show clearly and unambiguously who he was and what authority he would claim over our lives. “Give us a sign,” the Pharisees asked Jesus. (Mark 8:11). Clearly Jesus is exasperated; he must have heard this request countless times. “He sighed deeply and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.’” (Mark 8:12) The point is that as with Bruce there were signs enough but no one seemed to see them. In fact, John structures his entire Gospel around signs: he selects just seven, the perfect number. As he explains following the first sign. “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11). However, by their very nature, these signs were not unambiguous – even the remarkable raising of Lazarus. So John tells us of the Jewish establishment: “Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.” (John 12:37). Very simply, signs need to be seen (especially in the close woodland overlooking Frodsham ) and properly interpreted. And in following the Sandstone Trail it was important to know the mindset of those who place the signage, something I soon learnt. And so we need to think with the mind of Christ – which does not come naturally. After all, who would choose the way of the cross. So before we would ask for a sign, we need to pray “Come, Holy Spirit!” #signs #SandstoneTrail

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