Navajo roads are something else. For one thing, "road" isn't entirely accurate. "Dirt track" or "suggested pathway" might serve better. We're used to paved roads wherever we go, roads which sometimes develop potholes or cracks but which, sooner or later, are repaired and we go on our merry way, rarely thinking about the ground beneath our feet.
On the reservation of the Navajo Nation in Arizona and Utah, most roads are unpaved. There are a few major highways which the state keeps up, but if you spend any time on the reservation, most will be on dirt roads. You drive on hot, orange sand tracks, some as wide as 3 lanes of traffic, some narrow enough for a single vehicle, some merely hints of a direction leading away from where you are. Either side of the road is banked and covered with desert flora—tumbleweed, etc. You can look across the desert towards a distant mesa and think that it's quite close, perhaps a mile or two, and know that it's at least 3-6 miles away.
One of the first things you might notice when driving from point A to point B on the reservation is that there is no straight line connecting the two. Even the main road meanders around the bases of mesas, connecting homes to one another rather than creating an efficient route and expecting homeowners to make their own ways. You drive in large arcs, sweeping around a valley in a way that suggests the road's architects knew what they were doing—each turn shows you a new side of the mesa you're approaching. There might be a quicker way to get across Chee Valley, but the Navajo seem uninterested in it.
The next thing you might notice is that there are no street signs. There is no direction whatsoever to reassure you that you're on the right road nor to suggest where you might turn. Driving on the reservation is intuitive. I asked our brother Tono Haycock once how they give one another directions and he said, "We don't." They just know where they're going and where everyone lives. For us white folks, we have to navigate from memory, learning where the bumps and dips are, physically remembering which turn to take and which mesa is home.
And once you reach your destination, you'll find an entirely different network of roads—almost every home on the reservation is surrounded by several interconnected paths which lead you to the different living spaces they've created. One goes semi-directly to the main house. A couple branch off towards livestock areas which in turn have roads back to the main house and each other. There might be another home on the property or garage or shed which has its own set of roads leading back. And there are usually at least two ways to leave from the compound. The options are almost endless.
You might say my point here is obvious—we are all following some sort of road in our lives. Your path is much different than mine, but they all seem to sway back and forth without signs to show us the correct way. Because there is no correct way. You are moving towards a destination (eternal life in community with God) yet how you get there is unclear. If you take this turn or that, it may seem that you are in fact moving away from your goal, but another turn brings you leaps and bounds closer. You can get mired down in the short, interconnected roads near home and never realize there's a glorious panorama outside your comfort zone. And so on.
Yet this journey image of life is not at all obvious. How often do you find yourself so focused on a task that you've lost the big picture? How often do you find yourself arguing for a single, exclusive understanding of a situation at work or at church and unable to acknowledge that others might also have the truth? How often do you find yourself wishing things were simpler, clearer, more obvious to you and those around you? As bumpy as they can be, driving the reservation roads each year refocuses my mind and heart—let it go, they seem to say. Just follow the path, take things as they come, pay attention to the other people you're with on the path, let it go.