The metaphor of Journey is a very powerful motif in Christianity. With a homeless savior at the center of the Gospel stories, the concept of being open to change is frequently proclaimed from pulpits across America. The big story of the Hebrew Bible is the forty year physical journey across a desert and the mental journey from enslavement to freedom in a new land. Jesus and the disciples meander around Galilee avoiding too much Roman attention till the right moment. Paul, rejected by the newly emerging yet already established church leadership migrates around the Mediterranean basin till he too is captured by anxious imperial power.
We are all on a journey, I heard over and over again in church. We are like the Hebrew people traveling across the desert. We are on a spiritual journey, becoming stronger and stronger in our faith and practices. We should not let ourselves become too settled in anyone place but keep seeking the New Creation. Which sounds all well and good until its time to move across an ocean.
Just before the wonderers cross into the promised land, they are instructed to build up a pile of stones by the river so generations later children will ask “what happened here?” In a time without books or the internet, memory prompts needed to be massive.
As I sort through all our “stuff” I am realizing just how massive my collection of memory prompts have become. And how much they weigh.
Journeys are not good places for heavy objects. As i sort through the boxes I think of the Oregon Trail where a family, already stripped down to the bare minimum still drags along Grandma’s rocking chair till they hit the Rocky Mountains. I think of the Pacific Crest Trail were mail drops have boxes for through-hikers to drop weight out of their packs. I think of travel toy websites and catalogues full of lightweight gadgets for the corporate road warrior and the rolling suitcase. I think about how do we know where we have been? If we are on a journey, then perhaps we need to keep a few souvenirs so we can keep a record of what we saw and learned along the way.
The problem with journeys is that we can forget where we’ve been and we can be forgotten. We can become lost and think ourselves forever alone in the crowded streets of unrecognizable languages. The problem with journeys is that we have to leave our home, our people, our place. So, if we can’t take Grandma, then maybe we can at least take her chair. But journeys are not about what we take with us and to truly go out on journey, on pilgrimage, means to let go.
Which is hard to do.
Which is why its also important to do. Stone piles are meant to be walked away from. They mark that something happened in this place but in doing that, the stones must remain in this place. They can’t move. Their permanence becomes our freedom. The stones get to hold our memory.
At one point, Jesus sends the disciples out on their own to preach the good news. They are to take nothing with them. They are to be completely dependent on whomever they encounter. Taking nothing, they become radically vulnerable. In their vulnerability, they are to invite the encountered ones back into God’s loving, spider-web-strong way of life. Personally, I think that this is madness. If it worked well, we’d all be doing this two thousand years later but we’re not. Is this human sin, human inability to trust or it is human practicality and God-given self-care?
Last week, my husband and I and friends set out on a journey to McKinnleyville, California. One the one hand, it was a roughly four hour drive north from Santa Rosa. On the other hand, it was a ten year journey from first formally seeking ordination to ministry. Or a fifteen (more or less) year journey from first considering “call.” Or a fifty-three year journey from baptism, but that’s beginning to stretch the definition perhaps.
To the topic at hand, My husband took two days off from work to accompany me to a Presbytery meeting where a proposal for a validated ministry of writing would be submitted for group discernment and approval along with my own examination for ordained ministry.
I have to say that I was feeling the journey motif very strongly that Friday afternoon. For one thing, the vote to approve both the ministry and the ordination is in clearly not an actual destination point. I, we, are not done with the traveling. Instead, that afternoon was a transition point. A mail box drop. It was time for me to take certain weights out of my pack and leave them behind. It is now time to head out with not much more then a pair of sandals on my feet and the good wishes of this community of senders.
My first acts of ministry will take place in the context of a journey. We are not permanently settling in Munich. I will work in a community of other travelers, other ex-pats who are also coming and going. I will work with Asylum Seekers, displaced travelers not of choice but of necessity. I may work with English speaking prisoners in a German prison system. I will write to an unseen community of readers about all of this. My words themselves will become travelers and I will not know where they go or what work they do.
Moving like this is forcing some significant choices on us. I used to have over ten boxes of “stones”, memory objects that no longer have any use other than to remind me of something. Like that time when I was in college and…oh never mind. You don’t really need that story. I don’t either. Not anymore. My ten boxes have become two or three and even then I’m thinking about being prepared to drop them off near Grandma’s rocking chair on on the trail.
As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment,; give without payment Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. …Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that me. For it is not you who speak, but he Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
– Matthew 10:5-20, (excerpted)