Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Beds for all who come

The words of the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti have been on my mind ever since I left Indiana yesterday morning:

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
        Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
        From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place?
        A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
        You cannot miss that inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
        Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
        They will not keep you standing at that door.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
        Of labor you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
        Yea, beds for all who come.

A good poem makes meaning on several levels, and ultimately, this little poem is an allegory of the Christian life, with its promise of eternal rest after the difficult journey on earth. At the same time, many of its words apply so truly to smaller journeys.

My journey from Indiana to Alabama was not literally "up-hill all the way"; for the last three hundred miles, at least, I was moving steadily downhill toward my coastal home. Nevertheless, I made my Christmas journeys (800 miles each way) pondering the power and mystery of hospitality to travelers.

Ever since finishing college, I have travelled alone. As an introvert, I don't necessarily mind solitary hours in trains, planes, or cars, but I have had so many such hours that they have begun to feel lonely.   On some journeys, I wish for companions for practical reasons -- another driver, conversation to keep me alert, someone to watch my bag on a train full of strangers. At other times, the fact that I travel alone  makes me wonder if I will ever have anyone who will stay with me.  I am blessed to have friends and family in so many places, but sometimes I feel rather like a single pinball, ricocheting from one happy couple or family to another. For me, the "up-hill" part of most physical journeys I take is that I generally take them alone.

To dwell on loneliness, however, would be absurd and misleading. In truth, I have just returned from one of the most hospitable, social journeys I have ever made.

Heading north before Christmas, I stopped for a meal with one of my students, her parents and one sister, thanking God for a job where students, faculty, and families want to know one another. Farther along, I spent the night with my dear Mark and Moriah, sharing stories and wondering when the new baby would arrive (she came December 27, as it happened). When I reached my parents' house, they shouted, "She home!" and began the flurry of welcoming and showing. When it was time to return to Alabama, I drove an hour south to visit Lennon, Amy, and Andrew. We celebrated New Year's (a few days late), giggling over our silly-yet-sincere toasts ("May your cactus never dwindle, and your classes be triumphant! May friends be plentiful and your church search soulful!"). Lennon even offered to sabotage my car and keep me there -- a special kind of brotherly hospitality, I suppose. The next day, I stopped for lunch with Mark, Moriah, and the children -- including sweet newborn Grace. Finally, a night at the house of a student's family -- a veritable hostel, they called it, merry and full. We shared a meal, laughed over Youtube videos, watched Downtown Abbey, slept soundly.

After such happy visits, it was strange (not sad, but strange), to return to such a quiet little apartment. I am genuinely happy to be home (for this is my home, and a very good one), but my long drives north and south reminded me that in reality, "home" often feels more like Rossetti's poem than any sort of settled comfort. Home means leaving the place where you were a child and heading south with tears and snowflakes dimming your eyes. It means stopping first here, then here, to spend time with people who do not know one another, but who dwell as neighbors within your heart, and within God's.  It means experiencing--though a hug, a meal, a bed--the promise that in the larger, longer, darker journey, there are indeed "beds for all who come" to the house of the Father.

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