There and Back Again” is the subtitle to J.R.R. Tolkien’s tale of hobbits, goblins and wizards in The Hobbit. There and back again has been my theme after ten days of travel through the Holy Land, seeing where the Bible comes alive over the rolling waters of the Sea of Galilee and the bustling streets of Jerusalem. Our group had wandered far and now we have wandered home.
One of the things I like about traveling is enjoying local foods. In Texas I appreciate beef barbeque (no substitute for pork, but it will do). In India I could not get my fill of curry. I do not need to even comment on the sheer volume of raw oysters I consume when vacationing near Apalachicola. I have never had goulash like I ate in Hungary. Readers of my blog know that while wandering through the Holy Land I did not tire of pita bread, falafel, hummus and other tahini laced dishes. No matter where I wander off to, however, it is always good to wander back home. Give me biscuits and country-fried steak and I know that I am at home.
Wherever you find yourself wandering, I say wander with a purpose. God has created a wonderful world for us to see and experience. The psalmist sings: “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” (24.1) You do not have to touch the Jordan River or pray at the Western Wall to be closer to God. You just need to look up, look around, and look forward for God is before you and with you.
How are you experiencing God’s presence in your wanderings? Do you see Christ dwelling with you at work, or around the dinner table? How about the classroom or in traffic? Do you see the footprints of the Lord when you have wandered into grief or disappointment, as well as joy and leisure?
Many wander into church searching for a pathway to God and many wander out of it, frustrated that the way is not always so clear. One of the essential functions of a healthy congregation is to join with others in their wanderings, meeting them where they are and sharing with them in the journey. In the Hebrew Scriptures the Israelites worshipped by way of a tabernacle as they wandered for forty years through the wilderness. It served as a reminder of God’s presence, wherever they happened to be.
My hope for the church is that we grow more and more intentional in meeting people where they are. This means allowing space for their questions and room for their searching. This is not about unqualified relativism, but a trust that when we seek, God may be found. “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29.13)
The worship, ministry, mission, and growth of the church needs to be shaped not by keeping God in a fixed location, but with a spirit that God is on the move therefore we cannot stay put either. In all of our wanderings – mountain tops and valleys – may we remember that we do not make this pilgrimage alone. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10.27)
I am grateful I wandered over to Israel and shared sacred moments with special friends. I am grateful also to have wandered back home to be welcomed back. “There and back again.”
Peace be with you,
PS – for videos of our Holy Land Wanderings please visit the following site – http://vimeo.com and under search key in gdeloach. Happy viewing!