I am on a road trip to help nurse a friend back to some semblance of mental health. He can’t seem to see beyond the demons of the past and I can’t seem to see beyond the demons of the road. Maybe I should say, then, that we are on an adventure for mutual recovery.

Rule one in this process is that we will stay off the interstate as we travel. Rule two is that there are no other rules. Rule one is sufficient. In my mind that means avoiding the I-system of hectic highways in preference for those two-lane blacktops roaming through rural scenes and undisturbed landscapes. In my traveling companion’s mind it means the avoidance of threadbare memories and the people who haunt them.

Studying maps and repeatedly asking Siri for guidance doesn’t leave me with much time to write. The meaning behind this dilemma is that this week’s message will be brief; a disappointment to me since the subject is gentleness and I could use a refresher course right now in light of my mission.

The definition for this particular virtue, at least the one I am most partial to, is softness of action or effect.

Softness to me is not synonymous with weakness. A physically strong person can have a soft touch. He or she can be one as well. An emotionally strong person, though, is guaranteed of possessing a soft touch for the benefit of others. Therefore it would behoove me to submit to some kind of emotional workout during this road trip in order to fulfill my responsibilities as leader and reluctant saint.

In truth the sainthood belongs to my muse for this series on what I have termed outcomes. My inspiration is a claim made by the Apostle Paul of New Testament fame, who said that the outcomes from being spiritually and emotionally mature are love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Nine in all and we are now at the penultimate of these proposed outcomes.

The image I carry with me about being gentle is taken from the beautifully insightful words of an ancient sage, the Hebrew prophet Isaiah. He wrote of God’s servant as one possessing a soft touch in combination with a strong arm. His statement, written in awe of such a person, proclaimed:

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

This statement comes from a lengthier passage about the deliverance of an entire nation. Our own could use such stealthy support right now. As I travel down a little used bypath in conversation with my friend, my words, tone and intent have to suffice as the strong arms of a makeshift shepherd carrying his wandering charge in a compassionate manner.

Turns in the road can be ominous. Being disoriented, as when the sunset seems to be happening in the east, is a given. Asking Siri for help is not to be construed as a prayer, but her guidance is sought and appreciated as she occupies her other-worldly status as oracle. If only she could answer the existential questions of my friend’s most arcane delusions, then this journey just might have a happy ending. Unfortunately she tells me, in her own gentle manner, that she can only discern right front left, not right from wrong or good from evil. Selah.  We venture on in belief that all who wander are not lost. Thank you for the gentle assurance, Mr. Tolkien.

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