The cairn as a course correction,
placing us on a better path to our final destination.
Mistakes have the power to turn you
into something better than you were before.
When I began this series, I didn’t have all of the information on cairns that I do now. Recently, Jim and two other dear friends shared an article from a local newspaper with me. The article, “Leave Those Stones Alone,”1 provided information about the harm that novice cairn builders can cause.
One problem, in which misplaced cairns take hikers down wrong or unsafe trails, was mentioned in my previous post, Cairn #2: A Guide for Our Path. Other concerns included: the safety of hikers who may reach for stones near snakes or scorpions; the environmental damage of undoing the habitats of birds, insects, and plants that thrive near rocks; or the destabilization of the soil in areas prone to erosion. Finally, there can be harm to the cultural understanding, symbolism, or local traditions of cairns when they are changed or moved in any way.
After reading the article, I felt discouraged about this series. Would I be contributing to these problems by inviting people to build cairns? I am hopeful that those of you who are building cairns will be mindful of these concerns. Most of us will not be building along remote paths, or moving established cairns, or using rocks that are not already loose. Regardless, this information is good for us to know.
Today’s cairn is the course correction. When we have somehow strayed from the correct path, the cairn remains to guide us back, keeping us from venturing into further trouble. We may have simply missed a sign, or gradually veered off course, or taken a wrong turn. The helpful cairn then reveals our missteps and returns us to the right path. This news article about cairns serves as a “course correction” by giving us the information we need in order to respect and honor them.
There are times when course corrections can feel like criticism. My pastor friend Chrysanne once kindly reminded me that criticism should first be received as information. Is any part of the criticism untrue and therefore not applicable to me? On the other hand, is any part of the criticism true and beneficial for me to know? When we learn to set aside our pride and initial hurt, we can begin to look for the hidden gems waiting to inform and mature us.
I believe we are always trying to do our best. We strive to do the right things, to live with integrity, to be good people, to follow God in all that we do. But we are works in progress, travelers on unknown adventures. Aren’t most of our mistakes simply because we didn’t have all the information we needed at that time? Because we just didn’t “know” better?
We can be gratefully relieved that God understands we are works in progress. God knows that we continue to learn and mature from our experiences, observations, and insights throughout life. God forgives our mistakes and also provides the cairns of correction. Together with God and one another, we keep moving forward on our journey toward wisdom and understanding. We can welcome all of our course-correcting cairns along the way with humble appreciation.
Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life,
but one who rejects a rebuke goes astray.
(Proverbs 10:17 NRSV)
(As you place your rock, consider these words.) “This stone is to encourage me to be attentive to any course corrections I may need this week…”
Oh, how I thank you for your constant love, even when I wander or lose my way. As I continue my journey as your beloved but imperfect child, increase my clarity and wisdom. Show me where I may be straying, reveal what I need to learn, guide me to your perfect way. Help me to welcome your correction with an open heart and humble gratitude. Amen.
Next week’s cairn focus will be A Symbol of Connection.
1The article originally appeared in The Washington Post, written by Sunny Fitzgerald.