Pilgrim's Recess

EA and I spent our last full day in Italy on an afternoon tour that explored the islands of Murano, Burano, and Tercello. We had fun hanging out with a couple (but not a couple couple) from Oakland who identified me as an English speaker from my Braves cap. And it would not have been a day in Italy if we didn’t get lost on the way to somewhere; in this case, it was dinner. 

We walked past the church that was used for the Venetian library in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. We heard some excellent street musicians. We passed my statue friend, Marco the Winged Lion. We ate dinner outside and talked about our trip as the sky turned to faint blue and orange. It was a good day.

In the first reflection that I wrote about this trip, I referred to it as a pilgrimage of sorts. I’m not sure that I had any great epiphanies about my life along the way. Playing around with John Bunyan and C.S. Lewis, I’m not sure if this journey has been one of progress or regress. The trip in all of its wandering around, semi-regularly getting lost, and often feeling like a stranger seemed to reaffirm that these experiences are just part of life. We wander, we get lost, and we sometimes feel like strangers.

Yet that wandering need not be hopeless. The quest for a spiritual homeland can yield the discovery that home is a place that you carry with you. God goes with us. That’s the story of Israel in the wilderness. That’s the story of Jesus roving around Palestine. That’s the story of followers fanning out to the four corners of the world. Just because one wanders does not mean that she or he has no place to belong.

If not for one thing, the island of Burano would probably not be an incredibly interesting place for most people. It’s true that they craft world-famous lace on the island and that excited EA to no end. Yet the thing that truly makes Burano stand out are its buildings. They are painted in such a way that makes the place come alive with technicolor. For those who have been to Charleston’s Rainbow Row, take that, crank it to 11, and then spread it all over an Italian island. Imagine every building covered in bright, bold colors: reds, oranges, purples, deep blues, lime greens, golden yellows, and more. Every home exuded this incredible vibrancy.

I think the key is to remember that God is with us even as we wander. It can be very easy to listen to some who will proclaim that God abandons those that do not believe the “correct” thing about the Bible or women in ministry or evolution or whatever else. I admit that part of me buys that lie at times and I have ceded my nomadic homeland. 

Yet Jeremiah reminded people that if we seek God with our entire being then we will find God. God is with us as we wander. God makes our nomadic homes flash with brilliant technicolored life. In fact, to borrow from yesterday, I believe God sings to us “Home is wherever I’m with you.”

So I guess that this trip has not been a progress or a regress, but more of a recess. Play, after all, is as important a component of learning as work. This trip has been a break from my routine in which I have been able to reflect on where my life is and what I may do about it. I have gotten a sense that my spiritual homeland is around me as I wander. Now I have to embrace that back in the normal world. It is easy to see new things in the unfamiliar, but it’s more difficult to apply them in the routine. And even then, things have a way of turning out kind of weird. For example…

After dinner, EA and I walked through the streets of Venice as night took over. The city becomes quite different under the street lights. It becomes more romantic and more mysterious. We got one last cup of gelato and walked over to St. Mark’s Square. A crowd was gathered around a quintet on a small stage. Lovely music floated through the piazza, lifting spirits and pigeons. People were transfixed by the music. Children were playing in the twilight. It was almost magical: a storybook ending to a great trip.

And then about ten feet from me, a guy came sprinting out of a souvenir shop and then another dude ran out and grabbed the first by the backpack. Dragging the man back into the shop, the owner yelled, “I call the police! I call the police!” EA was about to walk in the store before I held my hand up. “You don’t want to go in there.”

So here’s to Italy: the wonderful and weird, the magical and mundane. Thank you for the memories that I got to make with EA. Thank you for how you made me think. Thank you for making me uncomfortable and yet finding home on the other side of the ocean. Thanks for letting this pilgrim get a sense of his bearings.

Drawing Jesus