As I’ve observed folks over the years, I’ve come to realize that there are two types of travelers.
Some people are destination focused, working to get to wear they are going as quickly as possible. These are the people who will take the fastest route, only stopping for gas and snack breaks, and who are resentful if anyone needs a bathroom break outside of the planned stops. The journey is a nuisance that must be endured until they reach the final destination.
But then there are others, adventurers and nomads, who recognize that the exploration along the way can be as rewarding as reaching the final destination. These people will stop along the way, taking the back roads just to see what there is to see. Along the road they meet new people, see amazing things, and end up with a far richer experience.
I remember one trip many years ago when we were driving through Kansas on our way to Colorado. Honestly, I had been pretty destination focused, planning our route and trying to keep to a schedule. But along I-70 as we drove through wheat field upon wheat field, every so often we would come to an exit to a small village that always had a sign “Site of Interest” in that town. These were basically farm towns gathered around the grain elevator in the midst of the prairie, and we couldn’t image what would be so interesting in any of them, but after seeing about 10 of these signs we decided to slow down, take a moment, and see what was so special about Victoria, Kansas.
We followed the signs a short distance and suddenly found ourselves in front of the Cathedral of the Plains, St Fidelis Catholic Church.At the time that it was built in 1911, it was the largest church west of the Mississippi. We walked into a church building that was longer than a football field, and had twin towers that rose 140 feet into the sky. The Romanesque design church contains German windows & works of art, Austrian hand carved stations of the cross, and Italian marble altar. Honestly, it reflected God’s beauty in so many ways.
If we had not stopped, we would have missed seeing this amazing thing. If I hadn’t been willing to put my schedule aside and turn my focus from the destination, I would have missed this great work of art that helped me connect to God.
As I reflect on this, I’ve become convinced that there are two types of religious folks as well. Some are destination focused. Their entire system of belief is based on getting to heaven and avoiding hell – and that’s all that really matters. My early religious roots were in a church of this type and when I think back on it, once a person walked the aisle and got saved life was pretty much about twiddling our thumbs until that day “when we all get to heaven in the sweet by and by”.
But there are other traditions, including the one that I’m a part of now, that see faith as a journey. Certainly, there is a destination – an ultimate thing or place that we are working toward. But there is a recognition that we haven’t arrived yet, that we are on a journey (or even better yet, a pilgrimage) in which what we do and what we experience along the way is as important as where we are headed. In this view, the faith life is a quest, an adventure, where we experience all that God has to offer us. There are markers along the way – some which are roadblocks to our progress requiring detours, and others which provide shortcuts to the divine.
We are coming up on the day in the church year we call The Epiphany. An “epiphany” is a sudden realization or insight. It’s that moment with the lightbulb comes on in our head and we realize something new that we have never considered before. Our Epiphany in the church is the time we we realize that God is doing something new in the coming of Jesus into the world. It’s a recognition that all the traditions and expectations about the coming Messiah are being turned upside down.
On Epiphany, the church focuses on the story of the Magi, magicians from Persia, who journey from afar to acknowledge and reveal the promised Messiah to the world. These “wise guys” were outsiders. They were from a different land and practiced a different religion than the Hebrew people. But, they had been willing to follow a star and move outside their comfort zone to worship the one who was doing something new.
They had been journey people – willing to follow whatever road necessary to follow the light of the world. And, once they had bended the knee and presented their gifts, the journey was not over. The adventure had just begun, and in fact required them to take an unexpected detour back to the place they called home.
I’ve had a book on my shelf for years called “Western Theology.” It’s picture book written by an Episcopal priest that contrasts what he called “Settler” and “Pioneer” theology. The former are those folks who are looking for a destination to settle. The latter are those on the wagon train who are following the unknown path, willing to go wherever necessary, and finding amazing things along the way.
The magi were pioneers and adventurers, willing to take side roads and detours in their desire to find the light. The priests of the day were settlers, rooted in a destination but completely unopen to God’s leading in new directions.
The question for us is who will WE be?