Typically when I have a spiritual experience in the car, it’s while listening to Man on the Moon Part I: The End of Day. It was one of the first rap albums I ever listened to by the first artist who I ever thought actually had something to say through hip hop (a realization that spurred on a love for the genre that I’m sure so many now wish I didn’t have. But that makes you a hater and all haters are are dreamers who forgot they dreams).
But this time it came not through the reflections of Scott Mescudi on his upbringing, but instead through a puddle of water in a field by the side of the highway.
The reason I’m writing on a Sunday afternoon as opposed to Friday as planned is that I was driving 19 hours stretched over Friday and Saturday from Arlington, TX to Fairfax, VA to begin my summer internship at Fairfax Church of Christ.
I’ve had mixed experiences with road trips. For the most part they’ve been good. Through scouts I got to enjoy the hours long trips to and from camp, reading, listening to music, playing my gameboy, and napping, strapped against my seat by my belt in a position that should have deterred me from sleep more than it did. Then again, my passion for sleep is only matched by my passion for ministry, Spider-Man, and chicken nuggets, so I am an admitted force to be reckoned with in that department.
My first truly terrible road trip experience came two years ago, the summer before my freshman year at ACU. My parents picked me up at the church building the Friday afternoon that I and my friends in the youth group got back from being counselors at our children’s camp in Oklahoma. So I took my bags, moved them into our Trailblazer, and we hit the highway again to make the roughly 24 hour journey to Asheville, North Carolina. And I don’t remember who it was, but someone had the idea that we didn’t need to stop anywhere (despite having family in Jackson, Tennessee), and that with 4 of us (my Nana was also there, but she got to opt out of driving because, as a Nana, you get certain privileges that no one will fight you on) we could just switch off and drive through the night, end up in Asheville around noon the next day. Great plan. So I sit for a while, take my turn late in the night, and, long story short, I fail to stay awake while riding shotgun with Kyle as I’m supposed to try and keep him awake as we careened down the highway that was reduced to one lane of traffic for about 10 miles, my head bobbing me awake periodically to see the concrete barricades flying past us like we’re making the trench run at the end of A New Hope, Kyle’s eyes forced wide in concentration. Ultimately we made it safely, but everyone in the car felt miserable from the drive. Even Nana, though I suspect that’s just because we’re terrible company when we’re tired. Or maybe in general. Who’s to say?
So I wasn’t looking forward to making this trek out across the country on my own. I got a solid 5 and a half hours of sleep the night before, unable to sleep soundly from anxiety. But alas, I woke up, felt alert, and hit the road.
So I mentioned a puddle.
I’d sectioned off chunks of my time for what I’d listen to. I had my iPod hookup, several CDs, my iPad with several podcasts, and I’d assigned a couple periods to just let it be silent for a while.
Some of our greatest opportunity and unseized time is in the car, I think. How many of us actually drive silently? I know I typically don’t. But one thing I’ve been trying to get better at is spending time in silence before God.
Trying is the operative word here. Because silence is hard.
Whether it’s music or voices on the radio, or ourselves talking out loud to our Spider-Man bobbleheads on our dashboards (unless that one’s just me), we find every excuse we can to fill the silence. The quiet is unnerving to a lot of us. Sometimes it’s hard for us just to let a moment be. That’s one thing I hear a lot about romance: when you can find someone who you can shut up around and be totally comfortable with, you’ve found someone special.
And with that in mind, it’s uncomfortable to think about my relationship with God in that way.
We spend so much time praying and pouring ourselves out to God (which is awesome, by the way, don’t get that confused), that we often forget to listen. Also, we spend much more time talking about how to talk to God than how to listen. Prayer life is a staple in spiritual disciplines, but when it comes to silence… Well, appropriately, many are silent on the matter.
So i spent about an hour in silence, cheating by mentally reaching out to God in little spurts of prayer as things occurred to me.
But the thing about silence is that it tends to make us much more observant. This was not only a blessing practically as I flew down the highway and dealt with traffic, but also spiritually as I got to see the world around me, at least as far as either side of the highway and ahead of me.
And there was this moment when I looked off to my right at this immense crop field. And in between some of the mounds of dirt with sprigs of crops poking out, I just saw several puddles of water chilling there, waiting to be soaked up by the soil.
And all I could think about was how cool that was.
I paused to think about how dumb that seemed immediately after. I mean, how is water waiting to be soaked into dirt cool? Poll a million people on what they consider cool, and chances are that whoever says that is the one person in a million you don’t want to hang around, right?
There’s a Childish Gambino song called “Earth: The Oldest Computer” and while this observation had nothing to do with the lyrics of the song, I felt like it had a lot to do with just the title. I started looking at all the trees and the rocks far out past the highway, and just thought of all the stuff that was really going on with it.
Have you ever looked at a tree and wondered where it came from, how it started out? It’s a classic “If These walls Could Talk” scenario. But everything on earth has an intricate way of interacting with one another. Like how soil can become oversaturated and hold off water until the plants need it again. And how roots can dig their way through rock if they have to.
And I thought about the theist belief system of way-back-not-too-long-ago and the perception of God as an absent clockmaker- that he made the earth operate on its own and then adopted a hands-off policy. And maybe this was just an earlier ideology to try and reconcile the role of God with the role of science in the world, but isn’t it much more exciting and meaningful to listen and look for God acting in the nature surrounding us?
Earth may be the oldest computer, but code is still being written for it.
That may sound dumb or trivial, and I may agree with you, but I think there’s immense value in letting yourself revel in seemingly trivial or trite things. It sort of goes back to what I wrote about Squishy Chicken several months ago.
How open are we making ourselves to being swept away in wonder with our King? So often my pride or intellect tries to inhibit me for appreciating the beauty of things. And of people.
I got to spend the night in Nashville with a close friend’s grandmother and her son and his best friend. And as we went out to get Mexican food and Baskin Robbins, and as she showed me around downtown Nashville, I couldn’t fight off this sincere feeling of enchantment that I so often try to fight off. But the thing I’ve most consistently found true is that God is going to put you in wonderful, beautiful places with wonderful, beautiful people and when that happens, there’s a sense of joy that’s begging to be embraced.
I sat in the car for several more hours the next day, listening to Selected Shorts, and found after a while that I had spent a solid half hour listening to a story that was pretty much a woman describing how to play liar’s dice and several other drinking games. But I hadn’t minded. I’d listened intently because it was a story well-told.
When I arrived at my host family’s house, I walked in, was immediately treated to some smoked ribs, given the house rules (of which there were few), and moved my things into my room. The wife, Mrs. Wheeler, offered to show me how to get to the church from there, and upon arriving at the church, I found that some of the youth group was there, unloading from a service day at a thrift shop and preparing for a pancake breakfast the next morning to help fund their mission trip to the Dominican Republic. As soon as I stepped out of the building, some family friends from Arlington drove up as they were meeting another friend to go see their son who was the musical director of the community theater’s production of Little Women, and offered to take me a long.
I naturally said yes.
And so I sat through a three-hour production of Little Women with male parts that were absolutely ordinary and set design that would have made my high school tech director wretch, but I sat through it all more or less entranced. Because, even when it wasn’t told particularly well, the story was a great story.
So at what I finally felt comfortable calling the end of my excursion, though I hadn’t set out to learn a lesson, I found that I had anyway. I guess God just has a knack for teaching whether you’re determined to learn or not.
Some stories may not be great, but are incredibly well-told.
Some stories may be told poorly, but are still undeniably great stories.
And sometimes you have to just let yourself be open to the story.
Maybe this one was bad but well told, maybe it was good but poorly told, maybe it was both or neither. But at the end of the day, I’m glad I’ve lived this story. I hope you’re glad you read it.
You’re living stories, too.
God is taking you to wonderful, beautiful places and He’s going to put wonderful, beautiful people in your life.
You are a wonderful, beautiful story.