As a young boy growing up in Guyana and Grenada, there was something I always had in hand when I left our yard: a stick. A stick was just a part of the everyday life there. As many folks get up, dress—and without even thinking—put a wallet in the pocket or a cell phone in the purse,…well, a stick in the hand was like that for us kids in the Caribbean.
Why did we carry a stick? As we walked the roads through neighborhoods or the paths through “the bush,” there was always the chance of being attacked by dogs. A stick was good protection. And, if we were passing a mango tree, the stick became a lance to knock mangoes out of the tree. If we happened upon an old tire (car or bicycle), a stick turned that tire into a toy that we would run along beside for hours and hours. And, of course, it was good for prodding, poking, moving around whatever unknown things we found lying around. The stick was a security blanket, a tool and a companion.
This week, I remembered the stick as I came to the end of my morning walk on Wednesday. There is a large, light-brown dog that is chained to a tree in the front of one of the houses I pass. He usually startles me, lunging at me and growling as his chain—thankfully!—comes up short. I try to pay him no mind as I walk on by. However, this past Wednesday was different. As I came around the corner onto our street, I happened to glance over and see the brown beast lying in the yard…of a neighbor. Hmmm. I decided that as I was walking quickly and quietly, and as he was playing with a friendly neighbor dog, he would probably pay me no mind. I strolled rapidly past…made it about 20 yards, and then I heard that raspy, scratchy, clickity-clackity of dog toe-nails on asphalt…and the growing growl of an angry dog. I turned to see the beast zeroing in on my calves and feet….
He didn’t bite me, but he sure got me worried there. Thankfully, I retained a presence of mind and didn’t run or act scared. However, I will gladly admit that my exercise-elevated heart-rate just about doubled! Still…I made it the last 50 yards to my house with all my flesh and blood intact. And then I remembered the stick from childhood. As I stretched after my walk, I realized that I needed my stick again….
I don’t think anyone would have said in my childhood—nor to me in my present situation—that carrying a stick is “sissy.” In fact, only a fool would walk the streets and paths of my childhood without a stick…and I guess my fellow Texans of the present might—at worst—consider my stick a bit deficient when I see hand-gun warnings on the doors of restaurants. So, if carrying a stick in the face of real challenge and danger is smart, why not carry a “spiritual stick” as we maneuver the challenges and dangers of daily life? And what would that "spiritual stick” look like??
As I walked this morning, a verse that I learned long ago (also in my childhood!) came to me: “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.” Okay, so I learned it in the KJV…but I still understand that we must somehow internalize the truths, the teachings, the promises of God we find in Scripture. Some may insist on memorizing word for word…others will be content to have the core, the gist of it, firmly planted in their minds. I would challenge the Psalmist who wrote those words to expand the purpose a bit more (and I think God will be okay with this)—not only that we might not “sin against” God, but that we might live with confidence, that we might have healthy relationships, that we might live joyfully in the faith we profess, that we might grow in our relationship with God. Yes, I want that “stick” in my hand (heart!?) as I go out the door each day, as I wade through the streets and paths of life.
So, now I walk in greater confidence each day. In the mornings before the sun comes over the horizon, I have my walking stick in hand…in case that dog gets off his chain again. It’s made from a branch of the tree that stood in front of our house in Sta. Catarina in Mexico…3.5 feet long and a very hard wood.
In my heart, I carry my other stick, my “spirit stick,” that goes with me to protect and comfort me—God’s Word, truths and teachings remind me that I do not face anything alone, that I am a precious being with purpose and direction, that there is more to life than getting and taking.
It’s won’t knock a mango out of a tree, but these words are “sweeter than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb” (Ps.19:10b NRSV). Yes, my “spirit stick” protects, comforts…even guides and ‘feeds’ me as I navigate the streets and paths of life.