After college, some of my high school friends settled down in their hometown of Concord, New Hampshire. They married and raised kids there, never venturing much beyond the Merrimack Valley. They rarely go anyplace special now either, except maybe to Manchester or Boston for a concert or a show once or twice a year.
The teenage kids I once taught in the Lower Mills section of Dorchester, a neighborhood of Boston, were even more circumscribed. Their known world dropped away as the MBTA’s Red Line reached Ashmont Station, Boston’ downtown as distant and daunting as the Indies. They had to be bribed to take a field trip with me to the Fine Arts Museum in the Fens. That trip, no more than 15 miles total, was about as far as any of them will ever travel in their lifetimes.
This sort of localized living was the norm in past generations. People died in the houses they were born in, stayed put in the same congregation, and accomplished the purpose of their existence in a few square miles.
I used to think that local lives were lesser lives for never having seen the world. Not so. Writer Richard Lischer puts it this way:
In my first parish, I ministered in a small rural community 50 miles from St. Louis. Most of my members rarely traveled as far as St, Louis, and their lives did not reflect the frenetic shifts so characteristic of American culture. In my three years in that parish, I never met anyone who was going someplace as the world measures mobility or advancement, but the whole congregation was rife with a sense of journey, and most accounted their life a great adventure. A woman named Annie was dying in the bedroom in which she was born, almost within view of the church cemetery where she would be buried. She had farmed her land, raised her kids and served her church. She had fought the good fight. What a ride! she seemed to say to me. All the way from baptism in Emmaus Lutheran Church to burial in Emmaus Lutheran Cemetery. What a journey my life has been!
This, he concludes, is the journey that counts.
Despite my own wanderings and multiple careers, I’ve rarely gone anyplace special myself, nor has any of us who moves from city to city, profession to profession, relationship to relationship, church to church, if we don’t know where we’re really headed and what it means to be going there. We all go no place special if what counts as travel is only the well-worn route up the ladder of success or down the road of self-preoccupation.
The season of Lent invites us to accompany Jesus (who spent 33 years in a place the size of New Jersey) on his journey to resurrection. Here is a different kind of mobility, a progress from starving hearts to milk and honey, from false selves to real ones, from estrangement to embrace.
It’s a group tour too, which is its special grace. Together, the whole church will make its way towards someplace really special. Through the mystery of self-gift, suffering, and death, we’ll rendezvous at an empty grave.
It’s the trip of a lifetime. Everyone can take it, without leaving home.