Two days ago, a friend and I drove out along the Old National Road – US 40 – to photograph a few of the churches in our presbytery for a project I’m doing. It was a beautiful day, filled with sun and clouds, but bitterly cold for November, and very windy. We found the first two churches on my list with no trouble. And then we got lost.
I had gotten directions from the pastor of Ebenezer Presbyterian Church, but still we found ourselves wandering among the cornfields on narrow county roads, dodging the huge semis with their trailers full of the last of the corn harvest. Roads in this part of the old Northwest Territory (that’s NW of the Ohio River, by the way) are generally laid out on a grid, for ease of navigation. Ha! While roads may follow a grid pattern, streams don’t, and there’s never a guarantee that a given road will go as far as you hope it will. On the other hand, it’s hard to get truly lost, since the grid will eventually lead you to a main highway. Commercial maps, of course, don’t show the county roads, and the online maps often fail to show them accurately. Since we were looking for a church that had no street address, out in the middle of a vast stretch of fields, even the online maps were no help.
I drove around for half an hour or more, stopping at intersections to consult with my friend. Finally, we found our way back to US 40. Having thoroughly confused myself, I headed west. We shortly began to recognize landmarks and realized we were too far west of the one-stoplight town that had been our take-off point for the cornfields. So I turned around and drove east. Once again, I turned south at the stoplight. This time, we kept a sharp eye out for the road we needed. It turned out to be hidden just beyond a small hill with a farmhouse on top of it, across from a large farm next to a road that had a different name. My friend spotted the road we needed and I saw it just in time to turn. Two miles on, as promised by my friend the pastor, we came to the church.
When the men of Israel went out from Mizpah into the countryside and defeated the Philistines (I Samuel 7), the prophet Samuel set up a marker stone or cairn and named it Ebenezer, which means “stone of help.” I think that Ebenezer is a fitting name for this particular church, set out in the countryside among the corn fields, even though the church is built of brick.
This was the third day-long trip to photograph churches that I’d made in the past month. On each trip, I got lost. The first time was out in the hills and fields south of the city, where the landscape is closed in and roads and streams meander around the hills and through woods. I found the church I was looking for, but then the online map sent me onto roads that didn’t exist. I tried to use my native sense of direction – and the grid. Ha, again! I found myself on the aptly-named Maze Road. Finally, I spotted Frontage Road, and the Interstate beyond it. Wonderful, I thought – surely the frontage road will take me to an intersection with the highway, and then I’ll know where I am. So I followed Frontage Road for several miles, until it abruptly turned away from the highway without ever giving me a glimpse of an interchange.
I tried to get back north and west to find an interchange, but by then the sun was going down, and the roads were getting narrower and the woods darker. I was retracing earlier wanderings. Finally I happened across a wider road that actually had a yellow stripe down the middle – and, wonder to behold, a big truck on it! I followed the truck to the Interstate. By then, of course, it was too late to visit the last church on my list.
On my second outing, on a beautiful cool, sunny day, I got lost again when the online directions I was following claimed that two highways were one. I could find each of the two, but not on the same strip of asphalt. After driving up and down one road twice over, I gave up and once again tried to grid my way to the state route I was hoping to find. Eventually, I stopped at my third gas station to ask directions and found someone who actually knew where the highway was. He pointed me in the right direction and told me to go three blocks to Madison Street, which would take me to the highway. So I went three blocks, only to find that Madison Street was one way – in the wrong direction. I went on to the next street, turned left, and found the highway.
So where, in all this wandering, did I find the sacred? First of all, in three days of glorious sunshine, driving around the kind of countryside I grew up in but lived away from most of my adult life. The sense of Home was profound. Secondly, since I was alone on the first two trips, I spent a lot of time talking with God. And on the third trip, my friend and I, who have been spiritual companions for many years, talked together about God, the unity of all faiths, and the interconnectedness of everything that exists. And also about what’s wrong with the church and theology.
These days were a time of being, of letting the present moment simply fill my mind and spirit, lost or not. It was easy to savor each moment, each new landscape, each view. I stepped out of my everyday life into the larger landscape of God’s world, and it was a blessing.