With the occasion of U.S. Memorial Day in my mind, I was thinking about my grandfather. For years he marched in our small hometown parade, proudly representing the United States Air Force. I have not made it home for the parade in the past few years, but in my mind are countless parades past. I recall the serious look on his face as he carried himself and the uniform on his back with stately regard. When I was among the cheering crowd I loved to watch his official countenance momentarily dissolve as the veterans marched past our house. For those of us waving from the front porch my grandfather always reserved a warm smile and a distinguished nod.
But one thing that would remain meticulously unaffected—whether grinning at grandchildren or honoring the flag with his attention—was his careful propensity to march in step. Carrying the weighted memories of all that our nation attempts to pause and remember on Memorial Day, a veteran could perhaps do nothing less.
But when the roles were reversed, and my sister and I were marching in the junior high band while my grandfather was looking on, we were the slouching targets of his disgust. “Did you realize that no one in your marching band was actually marching? Not one of you was in step.” While the etiquette of carrying oneself with proper time and rhythm may have been lost on teenagers, to my grandfather, marching in step was as necessary as remembering to wear shoes.
To this day, I cannot watch a parade without duly noticing if its participants are in step with the drummer. And I realize now that to march in step one must first want to march in step. It requires a willingness to hear the cadence and align oneself with it accordingly. Subsequently, our unwillingness to march in step said something about our band, our commitment and unity, our respect for what we were doing, and our willingness to follow the authority of the drummer. And it was true; while we prided ourselves on performing in concert, we did not see ourselves as a marching band, and it showed in our walk. Moreover, the attitudes with which we carried ourselves ultimately affected our sound.
Christianity uses a similar imagery where it speaks of keeping “in step” with the Spirit as it relates to fruit and authority. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-25). The apostle Paul wants followers of Christ to recognize that the fruit we produce as his followers is directly related to the cadence we pursue. If our desire is to march to our own beat and direct our own way, we are likely to be out of step with Christ and out of touch with the Spirit.
There are so many ways to walk through life. There are so many drummers to choose as guiding authorities of life’s parade. The question of cadence is related to every aspect of life; from the way we carry ourselves to the tune we produce as we go along. In the earnest prayer of Psalm 119, the psalmist recognizes both his heartfelt need for a “drummer” and a desire to walk in his better way. “Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.” Like marchers who align themselves with one calling out the better cadence, the Christian pilgrim aligns herself with the enduring voice of God and the victorious life of Christ. She is being led further into the house of heaven by the very one who is preparing her room.
Since it is in Christ’s steps the Christian follows, by the Spirit that he lives, and by God’s voice that he is directed, his steps are aligned by the Spirit accordingly, walking forward in faith, treading where the saints have trod. No doubt, like my grandfather, the heavens rejoice at the sight of the great cloud of witnesses, who, in following hard after Christ by the Spirit who enables them, find themselves marching in step.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.