Monday, February 11, 2013

Travel safely

"I know the roads are wet, so travel safely." My friend Darcy left this message on my phone as I began my trip north last week.

"Travel safely." The words might seem ordinary, but they are a loving injunction. Travel safely....because I care for your welfare. Travel safely....because I would not have you come to harm. And why should Darcy say such a thing to me? This visit was to be the first time I had seen her since college, when she, her husband John, and I were all students together. We have stayed in touch though Facebook glimpses and snapshot messages, but we have not known one another's deepest stories. We do not trade serious news or heart-concerns. We are not responsible for one another.

Or are we? "Travel safely," she said, and I smiled, understanding. If the road I take leads to her home, then I have entered the ken of her care. I have taken a thousand trips down a thousand roads, over oceans and under mountains, and she has never known. But this road comes to her door, and somehow that matters.

Hospitality demands that we venture our hearts on on roads we will not travel and journeys that are not ours. By allowing someone to be at home with us, we become vulnerable to the perils of the roads they have yet to travel. We can't go with them. Perhaps we can walk alongside one, or two, but even the nearest companions must part eventually--for years, or hours, or one bright eternal moment.

Some hosts, no doubt, issue these commands--"Travel safely"--merely out of courtesy, and I know some travelers ignore the benediction. I never will. Maybe the words are customary, but they carry the weight of ancient and noble ideals of hospitality, echoing the the Old Testament, or the Odyssey, in which a host turns all his resources to welcoming a guest and making that guest a friend.

Among my Texas friends, the prayer book many of us used for corporate and personal devotions provided strong words for protecting someone as they leave home. Each morning prayer ends with the following valediction:
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you;may he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm;may he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you;may he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.

When several in our Sunday School class prepared to leave Texas for new works and new homes last spring, our friends spoke those words over us. When I moved, Katie wrote the blessing out by hand and framed it for me. The same words closed a letter I received from Josh last month. When Audrey and I talked through Skype yesterday, I saw how she and her roommates had painted the words and hung them on their walls. They are good, thoughtful, careful words, but they are not the only words that will do. For those who have ears to hear, the same care lies behind so many of our customary, glorious, ordinary, generous commands:

"Let me know when you get in."
"Take your time. Enjoy the road."
"Travel safely."

In other words, "I love you."

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