Gary Guinn

Literature of the Ozarks

Straight and Narrow–Deep and Wide

I have a guest voice for you today. I think you’ll like what she has to say.

Straight and narrow – deep and wide

by Val Gonzalez

The slender, stony track, perilously steep, led to a constricted gate in a rock wall. My shins were bruised, my knees skinned, my entire attention focused on each step.

I awoke with a permeating revelation. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

I, too, am a recovering fundamentalist. I was taught that following Jesus meant following all the rules. Well-schooled in the King James Version, I was instructed not to question. The result of this training has been a lifetime of fear. Because, you see, I have questioned. I have doubted. I have sinned in varying magnitudes setting off minor tremors and the occasional major seism.

In the midst of such a temblor and the accompanying spiritual crisis, I had a revelatory dream in which I was climbing a mountain. In that vision, I was scrambling boulders to the left of the path, on the very edge of the precipice, trying to keep up with my spiritual teacher. On the far right, there was a broad, smooth road that hugged the slope, full of travelers. When, finally, my teacher paused, I called, “why are you so close to the edge?” Smiling, he waved his arm toward the abyss. I had been so intent on the trek, I’d only been minding my steps while he was skipping like an antelope. I had missed what was now splendidly obvious. “Unless you get close to the edge, you’ll miss the view.”

I’ve explored many faiths and, at times, practiced none at all, but I’ve decided to follow Jesus. Now, due to my track record and complementary suffering, I think I’m something of an expert: Rules don’t always reflect the respect, mercy and loving kindness at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. So, my spiritual journey is an individual journey. The straight gate and narrow path won’t allow the security of the herd. It’s a lonely, unsure way. It’s messy; impossible to navigate without stumbles and setbacks.

But, I aim to stay as close to the edge as possible. Because, when I breathe into my fear, and allow courage to swell and love to win, boulder-skipping becomes easier, compassion simpler, and, honestly, that view! It’s heavenly.

Val Gonzalez is the Executive Director of Terra Studios. I met Val at a workshop at the Village Writing School in Eureka Springs . Check out Val’s site at


  1. Karen Schmidt

    May 28, 2015 at 9:37 pm

    My existential crisis occurred many years ago during my sophomore year in college. I had been taught to use a logical, rational, reasonable approach to problem solving, but in religious matters I was asked to believe in something that was neither rational nor logical nor reasonable. Supposedly that was the point, the big test: belief in a god who created the cosmos and who was concerned about me, an insignificant person on an insignificant planet in an insignificant solar system in one of uncountable galaxies. I became obsessed with the inescapable truth that one day I would stop breathing and cease to exist. The experience was too raw to be described as anything other than an all-inclusive panic.
    When the fear abated—I’m not sure exactly when or how—I was left with a peaceful acceptance of my small part in the order of nature. The question that remained is one that I continually struggle with. What exactly is a moral life outside the religious context?

    • Hi, Karen. It took me a long time to find peace, and I think the biggest hurdle was my refusal, conscious or otherwise, to be really honest with myself. I spent the first two thirds of my life working hard to find a reasonable belief system, within the context of Christianity, that would satisfy both reason and emotion. It wasn’t until I did some reading in/about Sartre and Camus that I found a connection that satisfied both of those areas. I’m no philosopher, but from my layman’s perspective, the Existentialists “out-christianed” the Christians, in that, after they eliminate any religious or spiritual certainty, they are left with a shared human condition–we are born, we live, we die. Morality for them comes from that shared human condition. If this life is all we have, and we all face the common “enemy” death, then morality springs from our shared attempt to make this life good for us all, to achieve happiness for the brief time we have. This is very different from nihilism, which Sartre and Camus thought of as a cop-out. It seems to me that an honest Christian is in the same place, in that she/he cannot prove beliefs empirically. A Christian’s “certainty” comes from an emotional conviction, which he/she makes a rational commitment to. If that rational commitment to belief led to the corollary commitment to a good life and happiness for all other humans, as I think it does in Existentialism, rather than the sectarian in-fighting and judgmentalism toward outsiders that characterizes Christianity, I might think differently. I could go on for fall too long here. I’m not naive enough to think that this approach offers easy answers to the immense complexity of the question of morality. All of these broad labels fall apart at some point. Even the one I might apply to myself–an Existential-Buddhist-Christian. 🙂
      Thanks for responding. Talk to you later.

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