I just got back from a four day foray in the woods.
I was with a group of brilliant educators all participating in an inaugural program aimed at expanding place-based education, sustainability, and experiential learning in our classrooms and schools.
It was almost a crime to call this professional development.
There was something magical about this slurry of teachers, solitude, and vision; blend in some sweat, peak-y views, and a few bald eagles, and you have the perfect recipe to energize a tired soul to keep fighting the good fight.
The tide that often seems so strong against us as teachers – societal ills, indifference, lack of resource – might just be able to be turned were more of us able to just get together and dream.
One of the principles we discussed at length was the idea of leaving no trace.
Leave No Trace is the wilderness ethic of minimizing the impact of one’s passage through an environment; this includes guidelines such as planning and preparing, properly disposing of waste, and leaving what one might find in the wild – leaf, antler, stone – in the wild.
As a leader in my schools’s own wilderness program, this is often a challenge with young people.
Kids are naturally curious and want to touch, pick, throw, and eat whatever surrounds them, so it is a constant battle trying to help them to understand how what they do today will cause a profound echo into what future generations will experience in the tomorrow.
Is tossing this apple core into the forest okay? What about building a small cairn? Tasting wild blueberry?
Their sound footprint alone could drive a ranger bonkers.
I have been thinking of the story of Mary of Bethany a lot lately; she has popped up numerous times over the past few weeks, and I am curious as to why.
God does that sometimes, I think. Percolates an idea, an image, a word over and over until the grounds settle, leaving behind a rich, aromatic brew. Like coffee, this distillate can provide focus if we attend to its message.
Mary’s story goes like this: Six days before the Passover began, Jesus went back to Bethany, the town where he raised Lazarus from the dead. They had prepared a supper for Jesus. Martha served, and Lazarus and Mary were among those at the table. Mary picked up an alabaster jar filled with nearly a liter of extremely rare and costly perfume—the purest extract of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet. Then she wiped them dry with her long hair. And the fragrance of the costly oil filled the house (John 12:1-3).
This act of Mary’s would have been seen as scandalous in Jesus’s day – uncovered hair! a room full of men! perfume costing a year’s wages! – but Jesus wouldn’t allow anyone to criticize her, even saying her act would be remembered throughout time.
As I thought more about leaving no trace and about Mary, however, I began to wonder how they connect to the kind of mark we leave behind.
Did the Roman soldiers (as the footnote in my Bible suggests), determinedly driving iron barbs into Jesus’s feet, perhaps detect a faint whiff of that aromatic extravagance and ponder what it possibly could mean?
Surely some of the spikenard Mary poured on Jesus spilled out onto the floor of the house where they were gathered. Would others walk by, daysmonthsyears later, and sense the sweet impression of Mary’s outrageous love?
Did the scent linger long in her hair?
Because the thing is, Jesus was right. Here we are, some 2,000 years later, still remembering Mary’s sacrificial act of devotion.
She left an indelible trace.
Like Mary, we have the profound charge of either being to those around us the fragrance of life or the stench of death (2 Corinthians 2:16).
Although in the wilderness we should tread as if we had never been, in life, we can – we must! – choose the kind of scent-trail we leave behind.
Mercy, not judgement.
Hope, not despair.
Faith, not fear.
May the costly oil of our lives be poured out and fill to the full the lives of those around us – a true trace that reverberates across time.