Follow me. ~ Matthew 4:19
When I was still in single-digits, agewise, I lived in the Yakima Valley in Washington state. I remember walking through the apple, pear, and cherry orchards with my friends—Sammy, Rob, and John. We would pluck red delicious apples off the trees, lean against the trunks, and tell tall tales while we ate the apples to the core, which we would then toss into the stream and wonder if they’d make it to the Pacific Ocean.
We dreamed about the deep blue sea, dolphins and whales, pirates and lost treasure. We built rafts out of fallen branches from the orchard and old sheets for sails from our mothers’ linen closets. For some reason, the rafts we built never floated and our moms were not happy about the sheets. The ocean had to wait for us.
After school, our little band would go down to the creek which ran below our houses. We’d dig tunnels into the banks with the intent of going all the way to China, but our parents always made us stop after six or eight feet of digging. “It’s dangerous,” they said. But we wanted to travel to enchanted lands.
We were ready to move, so we thought.
When I was in the fifth grade at Harriet Thompson Elementary School, my dad came home from work and told us that Safeway was transferring him to Texas. Mom asked, “Do we have to go?” Dad said, “Yes, if I want to keep my job.” My sister and I cried, “We don’t want to leave our friends.” Dad replied, “I’m sorry, but you will meet new friends.” My mom and my sister and I yelled, “We aren’t going! We like it here!”
Dad, as the speaker of the house, said, “We’ll be O.K. We leave after Christmas.” That was that. Part of me wanted to move and part of me wanted to stay put on Euclid Avenue.
When do we move and when do we stay? Is there a relationship between external and internal movements?
“The Bible tells a story of humans on the move. Exodus and exile, two of the main story lines of the Hebrew Scriptures, are tales of people in motion,” writes Brian McLaren in The Great Spiritual Migration. The Reverend Will Willimon comments, “All the gospels present Jesus on a continual road trip—God in motion. No sooner does Jesus do something than ‘immediately’ he hits the road to elsewhere.”
Jesus invites us to “follow him” (Matthew 4:19). Where is he going? Do we trust him?
There is a story about a family moving. They stop outside their new town at an old gas station where four old-timers are playing checkers. “Excuse me,” the father says, “Are you all from around here?” “Yes, we are.” “My family and I are moving to this town. What’s it like?” The oldest checker player looks up from the board. “I’ve lived here all my life. I know this town well. What’s the town like that you’re moving from?”
“The people were mean-spirited, gossipy, they were always fighting and pitting neighbors against one another,” said the father. “We couldn’t get out of that town soon enough.” “Oh, I’m sorry,” said the checker player. “This town is exactly like that.”
An hour later another car pulled into the gas station. A woman jumps out and asks the checker players, “Are you from around here?” “Yes, we are.” “Well, my family and I are moving to this town. What’s it like?” The oldest checker player looks up from the board. “I’ve lived here my whole life. I know this town well. What’s the town like that you’re moving from?”
“The people were the most kind, gentle and giving people we’ve ever been around. We cried and cried when we left,” said the mother. “Well, you’re in luck,” said the checker player. “This town is exactly like that.”
It is good for us to move to other places and experience diverse cultures. But are we willing to journey inward to our hearts?
Henri Nouwen writes, “Spiritual formation (true change) requires taking an inward journey to the heart.” If we genuinely want to begin a new year, a new life, then we must carefully look at how we “think, speak, feel, and act from hour to hour.”
Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). “If we walk around with hatred all day, we’re just as much the killer as the one who pulls out the gun. If we walk around all day saying in our heart, ‘What an idiot he is,’ we’re living out of death, not life. If that’s what we think and feel, that’s what we will be, death energy instead of life force,” says Richard Rohr.
“Follow me,” Jesus says. He moved from town to town. Healing. Loving. Forgiving. And restoring people. He also sought out places of solitude, stillness, quiet. He spent a great amount of time in prayer and meditation, looking within to the heart. “The journey inward always precedes the journey outward,” say Nouwen. How much time do we spend traveling within?
It took me time to adjust to small town Texas. All tea was sweet. Chicken fried steak was not chicken. My new classmates had funny names like Gary Don, Billy Bob, Tommy Sue, and Billie Raye. They talked slow and funny, but they said the same about me.
We went to the United Methodist Church on Sunday and the minister told us in a Southern drawl, “Gawd luvs ye.” When we go deep into our hearts, beneath our fears, our anxiety, and our insecurities, we discover that God’s heart is our heart. There is Love. This is the lost treasure beneath the sea.
Blessings and peace,