Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Road Trip

Some Easter connections from a work-in-process. I frequently drive over to visit my mother in a nursing home. She lives in the same town where I went to college, a place I’d not revisited for several years. The college bookstore where I purchased my old Bible years ago is a mailroom now, and the new bookstore, with a coffee shop that I patronize, is considerably larger.

I suppose my renewed acquaintance with the college is a subconscious reason, during the past few years, why I’ve sought out some of the jazz that I enjoyed at the time: Miles Davis (another Southern Illinois native), John Coltrane, Chick Corea, Maynard Ferguson, John McLaughlin, Joe Zawinul, and Chick Corea. The drive to Mom’s facility is about an hour on I-70, a little farther if I take U.S. 40 for fun, still further if I take IL 157/Old U.S. 66 to IL 140. That’s enough time to listen to A Love Supreme plus most of “Pharaoh’s Dance.”

Sometimes I’ll stop at a fast-food place: a typical road-trip experience.

“[Prolonged silence] –LCOME TO CHICK’N’BURGER MAY I TAKE Y’ORD— [buzzzzz click].”

“Yes, I’ll have, um, a biscuit and a small coffee… and that’s all.”

“[buzzzzzzzzzz] –WENTY-SIX DRIVE TO THE SECOND W— [click].”

Over the years, I’ve tried to develop a habit of praying silently for folks who work at places I patronize: a simple request that God bless them. Otherwise I might get into the habit of feeling annoyed at the indifferent service you find almost everywhere these days. Why is prayer for people much more difficult to become a habit than irritation at people's foibles? We’re all so preoccupied with our own affairs and feelings, which is certainly my case during trips home. Incurvatus a se—that’s the theological term, we’re “curved in” on ourselves.

During a recent trip, I noticed a car tailing me. Someone late for work, I think, or just being impatient. Perhaps I was God’s answer to the driver’s prayer for patience. I pulled over slightly to give him a chance to pass me on the straightaway. I thought of a Bible verse which our Sunday school class recently discovered.

Again the sentinel reported, “He reached them, but he is not coming back. It looks like the driving of Jehu son of Nimshi; for he drives like a maniac” (2 Kings 9:20).

I spend a few days with Mom each visit—visits that are terribly sad for me, but helpful and cheering for Mom. We chat about local news and memories. One Saturday morning, Mom and I watched an old western on TV. I couldn’t quite place the villain (in a black hat!) but then realized he was the actor Macdonald Carey, later the star of a favorite “soap” of Mom’s, Days of Our Lives. Making a superficial connection, I thought about our own “days,” which we tend to picture as linear, one after another, in sequence until we come to the last one, whenever it may be. We look back on our days and, often, realize how fast they’ve gone, even when our lives have been happy, like mine. How long since I've been in college? Oh ... thirty-one years, for pete's sake. So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart (Ps. 90:12).

The Bible also presents a cyclical idea of time, though not as strong as the linear view. Think of the well known passage Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (which I first learned via the Pete Seeger song): there is a time for everything, a season for planting and harvesting—but the word “season” implies that certain times go away and then return. We experience that movement in small things and large: we return to a place we left, we rediscover music (or other interests) that we once loved, we realize that certain difficult experiences made us stronger for later challenges; we find second chances we never expected. All of us have also had the never-pleasant experience of old wounds reopened.

The Bible also speaks of the circles of repentance: the ways we stray, backslide, return, stray, return, and through it all, God is always faithful. With its recurrences of sin, punishment, redemption, and return, the book of Judges is as much a spiral as a line of history. I freely admit that my Bible study over the years has been closely connected to my own spiritual ups and downs, and sometimes (though not always) the “downs” are the times when I’ve sought its pages most eagerly.

We speak informally of things like luck, fate, jinxes, and karma. We don’t always stop to think that, if God is our Lord, we are not subject to such things! God cares for us and guides us across our short years; God calls us not to lose heart at life’s hazards but, instead, to focus on our relationship with him. God’s Spirit teaches and matures us. God’s plans and purposes may not always be clear, and sometimes we may feel quite lost. But even the “lost” times may simply be seasons across which God provides. Easter--the conquest of death, God's great event of redemption--is sufficiently impressive and spectacular to give us confidence across all our seasons.