Over Thanksgiving, I spent a lot of time on highways. Literal highways. I drove from Decatur to central Ohio; then on to southeastern Ohio along the West Virginia border; then up to Michigan before returning home by way of Chicago and northwest Indiana. Though the vast majority of the journey was on interstates, our family did spend 30 miles or so last Friday morning on an old state highway in Ohio. Route 821. We were in search of the cemetery where my grandparents are buried. The terrain in that part of the country consists of steep hills, blind curves, sharp corners and even a one-lane bridge or two. The road meanders along the path of the Muskingum River, before heading due north through one-horse towns with names like “Whipple” and “Lower Salem.” It was a cool, crisp morning and the warm sun rose against the backdrop of a cloudless blue sky. It quickly melted the frost from the tips of the blades of grass. None of us in the car minded the extra time it added to our overall journey.
As a child, I loved when my mom drove the old state routes from Grandma Brum’s house to Zanesville, where we had to get on the interstate. And for a half-hour last Friday, I was back in those old days. One of my children even said from the back seat “I wish the whole ride were like this.” To which I said, “Me too, though it would take us nine hours instead of six to get there.” But that’s what those old state highways do. They force us to slow down and pay attention to where the road is leading. You simply can’t be in a hurry and you have to be patient. Because the highway won’t let you get there any faster.
Whereas the interstates allow us to jet our way over the countryside at the fastest of speeds albeit in mostly straight lines and with mind-numbing monotony, the state highways require us to slow down and pay attention to where the road is leading. You simply can’t be in hurry and you have to be patient. The highway won’t let you get there any faster. Yet it simultaneously offers glimpses of life we would otherwise certainly overlook – an rusty filling station pump here, a house with a sagging roof there, a church’s skyward spier over there - each inviting our questions and observations, and engaging our imaginations.
This week we begin the season of Advent. Advent encompasses the four (4) Sundays before Christmas and begins this year on December 3. While we are tempted to “jet” our way toward Christmas as the month of December zips along at speeds that grow increasingly more rapid with each passing year, Advent is like a trip down a winding, country road. It is God’s regular invitation to us to slow down and pay attention; to look inward; to question and observe the things we see within, which we would otherwise overlook were we not given the chance to examine them.
Praying for this kind of Advent this year – for you and for me…