I have an old necklace, a Saint Christopher, from when I was younger and briefly considered being Catholic because my family is vaguely Catholic and I needed a reason to live. As I packed for school this year I found this necklace and decided to put it on before I hit the road. It's not so much that I suddenly agreed with the Church's doctrines regarding Sainthood, but I did recognize in this moment that some people connect to God more easily through symbols, and I am not above occasionally trying out new ways to commune with God. And I figured ol' Saint Chris might be of some help.
For, you see, Christopher is the patron saint of travelers. Catholic lore tells us he intercedes for us as we journey from place to place, home to home, life to life. He represents all those who wander, those without roof or bed or home. And of all the words one might use to describe me at this stage of my journey, "traveler" is pretty on-the-nose. I zip between Springfield and Newberg and Canby at a speed near all-out vibration, tethered to each by strong bonds of heart but at home nowhere. Such is the nature of the beast I suppose, when one is going to college, leaving home, then returning home for a while, then leaving again. No time to put down roots, which is probably for the best, because it would just be too hard to leave when the time came anyway.
Abraham was a traveler too. God asked him to uproot and leave his home, his community, his status and security, really everything we as Americans value. Hebrews chapter 11, in a passage affectionately referred to as the "Faith Hall of Fame," tells us Abraham's willingness to leave for God's sake was an act of faith. In fact it says, "by faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country;" (11:8) and this is precisely how I feel every time I leave home again. I'm a stranger in a foreign country, re-learning what it means to live on my own, far from all those who make me feel safe and comfortable and at-home.
I have a wise friend who wrote we can discern where we are on God's path for us (and whether we are on it at all) by taking note of landmarks, which are those rare moment or events when we're sure we're in the right place, when God's presence is thick and His or Her voice is clear. In between these landmarks, every step we take is a step of faith, and we hope and we pray God will gently nudge us in the direction of the next. I've had those landmark moments, more than a few, when the fog clears, and I'm suddenly there, staring into the Grand Canyon, or the face of Mount Rushmore. And I set up camp there, praising God and begging not to leave, but God says I have to leave, because as long as I'm here on earth and not in heaven with God, I am a traveler, and travelers must leave. It's in the job description.
And I have come to count on these landmarks, but right now I'm in the in-between, stumbling and groping through the darkness, feeling my way to the next one. I'm not sure I'm in the right place, and I don't know if I'm doing what I ought to be. This summer everything was so clear, so pleasant. I felt as if I'd camped on a landmark, beat the system. 'Why ever leave the mountaintop?' I asked myself. Why let change happen? Well, as it turns out, sometimes life keeps on going even when we really, really want it to stand still, and we can only respond to this madness one of a few ways. We can let it drive us insane, or we can surrender to the notion that there might be greater forces at work than we understand. We can wallow in bitterness, or aspire to have some of what Abraham had, faith, and believe in the face of overwhelming odds God won't abandon us.
Abraham possessed no substantial knowledge that things would work out for his good; he had no evidential guarantee his hopes were well-founded, but "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," as the writer of Hebrews tells us earlier in the same chapter. Faith means learning to lean on God, risking even that we might fall flat on our faces if He or She doesn't catch us. Faith is hard. As a matter of fact, faith feels impossible, but as I have learned dozens of times in the past, and I suspect I will learn a hundred more times before I die, it is the ingredient that makes the difference, the substance that transforms meaningless wandering into pilgrimage. In other words, "faith is a bluebird, we see from far. It's for real and as sure as the first evening star, you can't touch it, or buy it, or wrap it up tight, but it's there just the same, making things turn out right." - Rufus the Cat, the Rescuers (1977).
"When I was a little girl my pastor told me that Jesus was knocking on the door of my heart. And, so, I listened real hard and I thought I heard him. I did. I raised my hand and told everyone that Jesus was standing there, and he wanted me. He wanted me. Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap. So I invited him in. “Welcome,” I said. And I gave my heart outright. I’m standing here today and I’m telling you today that, ahh, I’m still waiting for him to make himself at home. You know, I call and I call. There have been times when I know he answered me – times when I’m sure of it. But other times I got the porch light on and he doesn’t come. And I feel like I live in an empty place. I told God, you know what, I’m not going to let go, I won’t let go until he blesses me. But I’m wrestling with something nameless, without form and void, and I just want it to be solid so bad. I need all this to be real, and I don’t always know how to make it real – I don’t know how to make it real."
The character Corrine from the film Higher Ground