Way of Sorrow: Seeing an old path with new eyes

July 28, 2015 | retreats, spirituality

It’s amazing how different something can look when we are willing to see with new eyes, when we cast aside our preconceived ideas and our human need for “progress.”

When I was on retreat at St. Mary’s on the Lake earlier this month, my retreat leader, Paulist Father Tom Ryan, took a few of us on a hike across the beautiful property along stunning Lake George, including a long-abandoned outdoor Stations of the Cross path cut into the woods behind the chapel. I hadn’t even noticed it on my first two trips down to the lake, but there it was — overgrown, falling down, forgotten, sad. At least that’s how it seemed to me at first. And all I could see was potential.

This would make a great Eagle project for a Catholic Scout in the diocese, I announced, envisioning the path cleared and smoothed, fallen trees removed, wooden crosses refurbished. I could see it filled with local perennials and pretty statues and prayer benches. I made a mental note to find a contact person who could take up the cause when I got home, ever in search of something else to add to my To Do list.

Two days later, after lots of quiet reflection and prayer, journaling and silence, I wandered back to the pathway for some moving meditation. I had just started The Soul of  a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within by Christine Valters Paintner, and I was going to try an exercise she calls “Visio Divina,” sacred seeing. The challenge is to use a camera or iPhone to capture a scene that speaks to you in much the same way that Lectio Divina, sacred reading, attempts to illuminate a line or phrase from Scripture that carries a special message. And so I set out to see what might speak to me from the piles of branches and faded placards nailed to trees.

As I started onto the path, looking at it with the eyes of interior peace rather than exterior progress, I saw something very different. I was moved by how beautiful the path was in all its ramshackle glory. There was something so fitting about a Way of Sorrow feeling sorrowful, feeling broken and betrayed.

The faded signs and lonely chair, the crumbling stone stairs and fallen trees, the hollowed out trunks and tangled roots seemed to cry out: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Walk with me down the path now and see what speaks to you. If you can, go out into your own neighborhood one day this week and try to see it with new eyes. Maybe even bring your camera and capture what speaks to you. Leave a photo post in the comment section, if you like.

sorrow leaf on gravel

A leaf out of season greets me on the start of the path

sorrow first tree

Second station with Mary in the distance

sorrow empty chair

Prayer chair in the wilderness

sorrow mary

Sorrowful mother

sorrow stone steps

Stairway to heaven

sorrow tree dead

A dead tree that seems to cry out with sadness

sorrow crucified


sorrow buried

Nearing the end of the trail

sorrow candle

The chapel awaits at the end of the path


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