We frequently use the metaphor of “journey” to describe life or the trajectory of our faith. The visual that comes to my mind when I think of a journey is a map, showing an icon of a hiker with a walking stick positioned above a starting point. From that dot, a solid line works its way across the map to another dot, marking the ultimate destination. This past week had me rethinking the very linear notion conjured by the thought of “journeying.” My family visited a very familiar place. We went to my mother’s ancestral home in New England, where I have spent countless summers from diapers to parenthood. I have, however, seldom visited outside of summer and never in the heart of winter.
The familiar was still present and certainly comforting, but it was far from the same. The green field usually echoing the clamor of cousins at play was a deep and peaceful quiet made more so by the thick untarnished snow. What had seemed a deep verdant impassable forest as a child had grown less imposing in adulthood but now, absent any foliage, felt like a few lonely trunks between houses. The lake, so inviting on a warm July afternoon, was a sheet of ice coated with fresh snow, interrupted only by one long breathtaking line of jagged blue pressure ridges. The only activity consisted of ice fishing in tents across the bay and the flashing of infrequent snow mobile lights in the distance. The stillness of a place that I so closely associated with bustling activity was stark. This place, as familiar to me as any in the world, was still what it had always been, but at the same time was entirely new.
The trip stood as a reminder to me that the journey of life and of faith is as much about retracing and revisiting as it is a pilgrimage from one clear starting point to another. Our lives and our faith are more likely filled with switchbacks, detours, and U-turns, revisiting the same place over and over again, sometimes feeling like it is all the same, and at other times realizing that either the places have changed, we have changed, or our relationship to that place has changed.
When I think of the repetition or rhythms of our church year and the fast approaching Lenten season, the flippant thought, “here we go again,” is countered not just by the possibility that these circles in which we find ourselves can impart real change, but that they are an essential agent of change. I think our tendency is to think of transformation as activated by a move, an addition, a new initiative, or a dramatic change in pedagogy. Sometimes this certainly proves true, but often it is escapism that undercuts substantial change. Is this residue from the idea that growth is synonymous with being farther along on the journey? That growth is always forward, always new?
I also wonder if this disconnect isn’t presenting an important lesson for our children. We have created a similar paradigm for them. We celebrate those farther along academically, athletically, and by extension, socially. I believe growth could be better measured and initiated less by moving on to the next big obstacle, milestone, opportunity, or friendship than how we stand in the moment, our willingness to adapt, our developed appreciation and acceptance of what is right in front of us, our ability to fall, get back up, and try again, and our willingness to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. Maybe in Lent and through all of the seasons of the church year, God is inviting us to revisit with fresh eyes, to live the same life differently, to seek not the new but deeper engagement, to engage more intentionality with the now.
About the Author
The Rev. Benjamin (Ben) Maas is the rector of Saint James’ Episcopal Church and School in Warrenton, Virginia. The school serves children ages two through fifth grade. Leading worship, morning assembly, preschool chapel, and teaching are some of his greatest joys in ministry. Ben is married to Anna Maas and has a thirteen year old son, Elliott, and an eleven year old daughter, Lauralee.