Before I began composing this morning, I prayed that the Lord would guide the creation of this installment of Jim’s View so that these words would bring glory to Him. And yet, it seems that the Holy Spirit is guiding me to continue to tell my own story. This is a struggle, as I would prefer instead to jot down a short sermon or devotional that would inspire and perhaps edify you upon its reading. Well, OK, I will carry on where I am led to go…
If you are a resident of upstate New York, it’s likely that you’re familiar with the old Erie Canal and the towpath that runs along its north bank. Much of the old canal running through Onondaga and Madison Counties in central New York has been turned into park land where visitors can walk, run, and bike the towpath, cross-country ski on it during the winter, and of course go fishing in the waters of the old Erie. This writer has partaken of so much of what the Canal has to offer. I have pulled huge Largemouth Bass, Northern Pike, Carp, and multitudes of other finned creatures out of that old water-filled ditch. But, what I enjoy even more than the fishing is walking the towpath — for miles and miles.
Our journey to eternity with our Father of Forever, Jesus Christ, is a long walk and not a sprint. For me, walking the Erie Canal towpath is somewhat metaphorical of my walk with the Lord. There is a particular stretch that has occupied my mind lately. This stretch is the several mile section of canal and towpath that runs between Warners and Memphis, in western Onondaga County.
Much of my young life was lived out in Warners. What is Warners notable for? Nothing really. But, it was the Warners section of Canal that I first became acquainted with in 1973 when my dad took me fishing there along with his friend Paul Puttkamer and Paul Puttkamer Jr., who I hung around town with. It was on that day in late April of 1973 that the young Jim Yackel fell in love with the Erie Canal and its towpath.
As time went on, the canal, its towpath, and the section between Warners and Memphis became a refuge for me. When a girl would break my heart, it was the canal towpath that would allow me a private place to cry and get it all out. If I needed to get away from whatever was dogging me at a particular time, that towpath was the place to find sanctuary. In those rebellious years before knowing Christ, my friends and I would park and drink on that particular section of towpath. If I needed a place for an evening romantic interlude, of course the Warners–Memphis section of towpath was always there to oblige me and my date.
Fast-forward to 2009 and that section of towpath is still in existence, albeit with changes. Now, it is a busier locale being that is has been added to the “Erie Canal Park.” And, there has been some development along the non-canal side of the towpath. As for the canal itself; it appears to getting shallower and is becoming choked with weeds and algae.
Several weeks ago, I walked from Warners to Memphis and back. It had been years since I had been on that section of towpath and the first time I had walked it since coming to Christ. Of course, I was not alone on my journey that day as the Holy Spirit took the walk with me. I have written in the past about my prayer walks through the Mill Run Park woods in Manlius, and this was not much different.
I had the distinct impression that I would not be seeing much more of this particular area of canal. The Spirit led me with the thought that this was a place in time and had served a purpose. This had been a sanctuary for a teenager and twenty-something when he needed to hide, but now as a mature adult my hiding place is in the Lord. This had been a place to release pain, but now my pain is salved by the Lord. This had been a place to find musical inspiration, but now my inspiration comes from the Lord and His wondrous works. This had been a place to cry, but now it is the Lord that I run too…
This had been a place to fish alone, but now I am called to be a fisher of men. And once I fished alone, but now there is a little girl to take fishing. Unfortunately, as she grows and changes she is losing interest in fishing with her daddy. When I become sad over this, it is the Lord that I run to, and He reminds me that I must be her earthly pillar of strength and her Christian mentor as she grows up in a world full of Godless influences and harmful distractions…
Yes, one day my walk down the Erie Canal towpath will come to an end, and it may do so abruptly with the sound of a trumpet and the shout “James, come hither!” Or, my walk may end because a dead body walks no more. No matter how it ends, the walk will end, because that dirt and gravel Erie Canal towpath becomes a golden street in the Heavenly New Jerusalem…
So, I keep walking the towpath. I stumble and I struggle, but doesn’t our Lord God always help me up? I dream of a long, straight towpath that serves to summons me on because I walk and not grow weary, and I’ll run and not grow faint. Along that towpath, I see the same kind of beautifully adorned trees that Chloe painted in my story Leaves. And that shallow, weed-choked and algae-ridden section of canal becomes the clear, cool, blue, river of life that flows for all eternity from the throne of our Holy God. If your faith is in Jesus Christ, you too will be gathered at that river.
I thank the Lord for the Erie Canal towpath. It is a reminder of what is and more importantly, what will be. I invite you to walk along with me.
In Christ’s Service,