It's travel time again, after my year away. For a year I was a parish priest again, and usually could be found somewhere on the premises of St. James. There were weeks when I didn't leave the church grounds -- I would step out onto Via Rucellai to take out the trash and realize with a faint shock that I hadn't set foot outside the gate in days. But my American life is not like that. Here, I am on my way somewhere in an airplane several weekends out of each month. I'm an itinerant evangelist. Like St. Paul, only taller.
He used to travel the world -- no easy task in his day -- converting people to Christianity. This he did by talking to them in groups, mostly, starting from the beliefs he knew they already held and endeavoring to show them that Christ was the fulfillment of all of them. Then he would leave, and write letters back to them -- those letters now stand as the oldest books of the New Testament.
The letters were mostly a combination of scolding or encouragement, depending on which was needed, and fundraising. Almost all of them contain appeals for money for the widows and orphans in Jerusalem -- he had agreed to make these appeals wherever he went, in exchange for the blessing of the leaders back in Jerusalem on his work with the Gentiles, and he kept his promise. I'm not sure he ever raised much money, but he always asked.
I don't scold people when I go to speak somewhere. It may have been an effective technique for Paul, but I'm in no position to harangue other people about their sins -- keeping a lid on my own takes too much of my energy. And I don't do much fundraising -- I always invite donations to Episcopal Relief & Development, and once or twice a year ask for help with the Geranium Farm's expenses, which are modest. I do encourage, though. Mostly I just talk about how hard life can be, and yet how lovely it is, and how odd it is that, in most lives, both of these things are true at the same time. I talk about how delicate a thing it can be to discern the presence of God in our lives -- sometimes gloriously obvious, more often hard to see, as hidden as a whisper -- and how patient one must be as one learns to see it. Actually, everyone already knows everything I say. I just remind them.
Today, Ohio. Home next week, and then North Carolina. Will you be doing any traveling next summer, someone asks. Lord, I hope not, I think -- when you travel for work, it's not the first thing you think of when you think of taking a break.
We don't know much about what Paul did for a break. He doesn't seem to have been a person who took breaks. He stayed in the places he visited fo a year or more, usually. We know he wasn't married -- a lucky break for some first-century Jewish woman, as he would have been a complete pain as a husband. We know that he was raised in Tarsus, and that he made tents for a living. That's pretty much it for Paul's personal life. So I don't know if he thought of Tarsus when he was in Ephesus, as I think of home when I am away from it. I don't know if he missed anyone, as I miss Q and all the kids and the cats and the garden. Maybe he did, but I htink not: Paul was pretty resolute.
I must go and pack my suitcase now. I will not fully unpack it again for an entire year -- I keep it stocked, so I can just scoop up some fresh underwear and go. We're all just passing through.
For a complete listing of these travels, visit www.geraniumfarm.org and click on events.