Category Archives: Travel

Pause to Admire

For those of you who didn’t travel this holiday weekend – good for you!

I took my mother and brother to meet with family in Blowing Rock on Saturday, and the traffic was something else altogether.   It took us thirty minutes to drive through Elk Park because we found ourselves behind the town parade.  For those of you who have never been to Elk Park, I will indicate the size to you by noting that we might have passed all of twenty people lined up to watch the said parade.  Apparently, everyone else in town was in the parade, and that’s why it took them thirty minutes to do it.  Then we tried to take our usual route over Grandfather Mountain, but had to turn back because there were about fifty cars (and I’m not kidding) lined up outside the entrance gates to the park.

Needless to say, I was a bit chuffed by the time we and the traffic (finally) moseyed into downtown Blowing Rock and set about to find a parking space.  For those of you who think I should have just stayed home, I agree with you.  However, when one is meeting family, one does not always have the luxury of choosing the appointed day.  One should, however, try to avoid showing up in a bad mood.  I have to say that I was finding that hard to do.

That was when I saw something that delighted me.  Keep in mind that I am easily amused.

Isn’t he beautiful?  I think he decided to drop in for a photo shoot.  I got several pictures before he flew away.

I wish I could think of something more profound to say than, “Look at that symmetry!”  On the other hand, perhaps we are never more profound than when we simply pause to admire.

The day offered me another gift in the form of the rhododendron which are in full bloom in the mountains.  I do not know what dreary and unpoetic soul named them “rhododendron” (one of the ugliest words in the botanical lexicon), but they don’t deserve it.  Rhododendron grow in shady places, out of the sunlight.  They are hardy shrubs that thrive in the cooler weather of the mountains, and when they are not in bloom, they appear to be nothing more than tough, scrubby bushes.  Then summer comes, and they produce a blossom that is truly a lady among flowers.

It is hard to imagine how a shrub can grow such tough leaves and such delicate blooms at the same time, but here is another angle.

We all know that God grows some of his finest people in out of the way places and unpromising circumstances.  My mother is one of those people.  You cannot imagine more barren soil than what her childhood seemed to offer.  But Jesus himself was a “tender root out of a dry ground” (Isaiah 53).  Like rhododendron in the winter, His appearance had no particular beauty, no distinguishing loveliness to set Him apart from the other people He mingled with on a daily basis.  Yet those who measured His quality by the roughness of His exterior missed the incomparable glory of His godhead that those closest to Him were privileged to see.  His disciples saw the dead raised and the lame dance and the deaf hear and the blind see, and three of them saw Christ in his heavenly glory, shining like the sun.

All this we know from Scripture, but we forget over and over again to apply it to the reality of our lives.  We are angry at the traffic, frustrated with our loved ones, tired of the humid weather, weary at work, and a hundred other things.  Yet, God continually shines through His creation with an unspeakable beauty, and He reminds us that it was not beneath Him to come and share the ordinariness of our lives.  Indeed, He breathes upon that ordinariness, and it blossoms into “joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

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A Landscape for the Soul

My meditations lately have been on themes in the book of Ecclesiastes.  It occurred to me this morning that the central idea of Ecclesiastes is a familiar one to the culture in which we live – a journey away from the safe and ordinary in order to find some meaning and purpose for life.  I haven’t seen it yet, but I understand that Eat, Pray, Love took up this theme. So did Under the Tuscan Sun, and the idea of running away to an older, more beautiful and transforming culture is central to the novels of Henry James.

I have to wonder what it is that makes travel seem like the cure for a weary spirit.  During our small group Bible study last week, the ladies present discussed the places they had always wanted to see –  Italy, Paris, England, Australia.  Good choices all. The thing is, we weren’t necessarily talking about travel.  We were talking about the things we always wanted to do “when we grew up.”  It turns out that what we always wanted to do was escape the ordinary, to have adventures and to see something great and lovely.

There is something in us that is convinced, like the psalmist, that green pastures could restore our souls.  That a timeless and beautiful landscape could feed our souls.  That some indefinable thing long buried inside us might burst into bloom if only we were in an environment where we could nurture it.  That we could be creative and brilliant and articulate and satisfied if only we could find the right place to grow into ourselves.  Something within us knows that we were made to be pilgrims and sojourners in the land.

Of course, we have a citizenship in heaven.  Of course, we wait for the New Jerusalem that God is constructing for us.

But this heavenly citizenship is not just something for a future time.  We hold it here on earth, where we are strangers and aliens in a culture that is familiar, but not friendly.  We enjoy that citizenship at every church fellowship and communion, when we open a new worship CD, or the latest book by a Christian author.  We broaden our experience of it when we reach back in time to the works of great Christians who have lived and ministered and written and composed long before we were born.  We hear it in Handel’s Messiah and Mendelssohn’s Elijah.  We sing it in the hymn stanzas of Isaac Watts and Fanny Crosby.  We read it in Paradise Lost, Pilgrim’s Progress, Hinds’ Feet on High Places, and The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life.  We experience it in the autobiography of St. Augustine and the celebrations of the life of St. Patrick.  We see it in most of the art and architecture that has been produced by Western Civilization for the last two thousand years – much of it sponsored by the Church and inspired by Scripture.  We ponder it in the thoughtful writings of apologists like Tertullian, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis and Lee Strobel.  We marvel at the revelation of God in creation through the work of God-fearing scientists like Galileo, Sir Isaac Newton, and Francis Collins.

If we are longing for some experience of culture, it is at our fingertips.  We have only to reach out for it to know that we are citizens of a mighty and beautiful City of God, that we are the inheritors of a long, creative and timeless tradition built over centuries by the people of God.  Generation after generation, the Church has been cultivating a landscape for the soul upon which we can feed our minds and hearts from the truth of God’s Word.

So, here is my recommendation for the day.  Go find a book by a Christian on a topic that interests you.  Like to read about people?  Try Augustine’s Confessions or C. S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy or one of the hundreds of Christian biographies that are available.  Interested in science?  Read The Fingerprints of God by Francis Collins.  Need some new music?  Classical can be an acquired taste, and I don’t know of any better way to acquire it than with a CD of The Messiah and a KJV Bible to follow along with the libretto.  Like to travel?  Try a magazine about archeology and see what they are digging up that confirms God’s Word.  There is an exciting debate going on over new discoveries in Jerusalem and other places in the Holy Land that may or may not date to the time of David and Solomon.  Go to pbs.org and watch the Secrets of the Dead episode on King Solomon’s mines.  Are you into fairy tales?  Last time I checked, the Johnson City Public Library had some of George MacDonald’s fairy tales.  Like fiction and need encouragement?  Try Hinds’ Feet on High Places or In His Steps.  Like to goof off online?  Look up some images of famous cathedrals and churches and marvel at the architectural monuments that have been built to God’s glory.  And, yes, find some pictures of stained glass windows.  And you don’t have to buy any of it.  If it’s not online, the public library probably has it.

Take your new discovery, get yourself a cappuccino, and open up a new landscape.  If you want to feel really cultured, pick up some pasta and olive oil at the grocery store and try a new recipe.  You can get that online too.

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Last Day

Hello, readers.  I know that I have already posted today, but I probably won’t have time to write you tomorrow.  Heaven forbid you should miss a day of my vacation!  You wonder in exasperation, “Isn’t she home, yet?!”  By this time tomorrow, I will be close to home.  Needless to say, we will miss the ocean.  Needless to say, I have taken enough pictures to last us for the rest of the year.  Believe me, you have only seen the tip of the iceberg, my friends.  And we’ll keep it that way, since I would like for you to stay my friends.

Today, we returned to Manteo, which we simply love.  Here is one reason why:

How is that for a prospect?  And, of course, there is a lighthouse.

That is the Roanoke Marshes lighthouse, small and lovely.

We also made sure to go back to Fort Raleigh National Park.  It’s not a large place, but it is historically significant because it marks the site of the Lost Colony of Roanoke, those mysterious first English settlers in the New World whose colony disappeared leaving only the word Croatoan carved into a tree.  It’s next to the Elizabethan Gardens, but we didn’t go earlier this week because it appeared to be closed.  In fact, they are renovating the place, so there is only the gift shop in a trailer near the visitor center.  The trails are still accessible, though, and I love to walk the trails.

The woods are appropriately silent given the significance of this place.  It is a memorial for a group of unknown people who walked quietly into the pages of history, and then disappeared from those pages just as quietly into a destination just as unknown as their origins.  We know little enough about those settlers, and we have nothing but theories about how their story ended.  In Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony, Lee Miller, an anthropologist, argues that the Lost Colonists were absorbed by one group of Native Americans, which was later conquered and enslaved by another.  Miller’s argument is compelling (though not entirely convincing), but she offers one suggestion which I find intriguing.  Based entirely on circumstantial evidence, Miller suggests that the Lost Colonists may have been Separatists seeking to escape religious persecution 30 years before the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth.

This suggestion is based on two historical facts.  The first is that this was a dangerous and hare-brained enterprise even at the time.  Financial backing was precarious, and England was too absorbed with the impending threat of a Spanish invasion to spare resources for an American expansion.  Based on this, Miller believes that anyone who immigrated to America must have been motivated by desperation.  Further, this was a period of intensified persecution for Separatists, who are distinct from Puritans in that they wanted to leave the Church of England rather than reform it.  This called into question their patriotism and loyalty to the crown at a time when Protestant England was in dire peril from threats abroad.  Miller figures that religious persecution may well have driven the Lost Colonists to the desperate act of resettling in the New World.

This is a tenuous line of reasoning because Walter Ralegh impresses me as the kind of man who could convince ordinary people to take on this kind of adventure whether they were desperate or not.  Further, the fact that it was a bad time to be an English Separatist doesn’t mean that these people were Separatists, or that they were on the run.  Finally, Miller makes Sir Francis Walsingham the villain of the story, as a deliberate saboteur who wanted the colony to fail.  Unfortunately for Miller, her characterization of Walsingham doesn’t match the historical record; she leaves out several pertinent facts about his character and ignores that, as Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, he had his hands full with the Spanish threat and would have had little attention to spare to a small group of colonists who were exiling themselves to the ends of the earth.

For all this, I find Miller’s suggestion intriguing because there is always the chance that she might be right about the colonists’ religious affiliation.  The New World offered economic opportunity to Englishmen who came from a country where there was little land available, and where most of the land and political power was in the hands of the aristocracy, which took for granted that God assigned our stations in life and that the working class should know its place and stay in it.  This included accepting religious practices proscribed by the monarch and enforced by priests and magistrates.  Elizabeth was enlightened for her time, but even she took for granted her right to be obeyed in matters doctrinal as well as political.  The New World was both the opportunity to improve one’s economic condition and a chance to breathe free air.  We simply don’t know fully what motivated the Roanoke settlers, but surely the opportunity for a new kind of community had not escaped them.

Someday, of course, there will be no more unsolved mysteries.  The great books will be opened at the Last Judgment, and every deed will be brought to light.  In the meantime, the stillness of the woods is an opportunity to reflect on the astonishing courage of a few people willing to face the unknown with fortitude.

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