Near my hometown are the remains of an old route the locals unofficially call the Road to Nowhere. It used to be a paved road to somewhere, obviously; but as civilization would have it, new thoroughfares proved more useful and the old route was not upgraded, fell into disuse, and was eventually abandoned altogether.
Exploring the Word
Hearing the stories of the Early Church from Acts can sometimes be a bit of a downer. Where oh where did the perfect church go? Once upon a time, we are told, the community of faith was full of awe, signs, and miracles.
Witnesses in a courtroom are always admonished to tell what they know in precise and unembroidered terms: “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Compare this to Saint Paul’s championing of the “unleavened” truth in his words to the Corinthians.
It has become a nearly dogmatic element of contemporary religious education to assert that Jesus is our friend. We teach this to children, herald it in devotional meditations, sing it in hymns, and hear it wafting down from pulpits far and wide.
Try having a talk about death and see where it gets you. Talk to your parents about making a will, and they come up with a million reasons not to have this conversation. Scan the newspaper in time of war and count the euphemisms for the dead: “casualties,” “collateral damage,” “losses.”
The ritual is a strange one, as archaic rites tend to be when viewed from the distance of centuries and across cultures. An animal is sacrificed at the altar, and after much ceremony that is as precise as it is significant to the participants, a designated person steps forward to the presiding priest.
The Israelites grumbling in the desert asked the right question, the only one that matters when you come right down to it: Is the Lord in our midst or not? If not, we might as well get what we can in this world and Commandments be damned.
The Lenten terrain keeps changing. Last week, we crossed a desert. This week, we scale a mountain. No one said the journey of faith would be easy. But neither were we warned that this level of athleticism would be required.
When we read about them in Holy Writ, conversations with the devil seem eerie, dramatic, and singular. Consider Eve, standing naked at the tree, while the serpent insinuates itself around her heart with whispered words of unimagined greatness.
As children most of us believed in perfection as an attainable goal. Maybe not our own particular perfection (I was never going to get an A in science!), but the finish line was clearly marked out and someone was going to cross it. We were literally schooled into the quest for perfection: defined as an A+, or 100 percent answered correctly, or the coveted 4.0 at the end of the term.