My late great-grandmother presented a copy of The Children’s Living Bible to me on Christmas, 1979. I don’t especially recall Christmas 1979, so I’m grateful for her handwritten inscription on the title page. She had beautiful, lilting handwriting that leans forward enough the strokes look like a flock of blue birds about to take flight.
“Read and cherish Romans 10: 8-9” the birds sing.
I was still in elementary school and felt outlandishly proud to own a more grown-up Bible than the picture book renditions from early childhood. My new Bible only had a few illustrations, but all of the books, chapters, and verses. It had the crinkly thin paper like my mom’s Bible and colorful maps in the back. I spent a lot of time looking at the maps. One showed the traditional route of the Exodus with a bold pink line. It looped and backtracked and revealed a whole lot of wandering. Another map shows Palestine in the time of Christ. Names like Judea, Samaria, Galilee, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, and Jerusalem brought context and history into stories. They were real places.
Recently, I found the Bible and flipped through it to the very last page, which includes two maps. The top map shows St. Paul’s First and Second Journeys, tracing them with a pink line and a green line. I snorted when I noticed my addition. I created a journey in blue ballpoint. I have no idea what I was thinking. Was it something I felt Paul should have undertaken? Was it something I imagined doing myself, a little missionary on fire for the Lord?
I assume my journey began in Catabathmus because it’s closer to base camp Jerusalem, although still quite far. Then, I piloted my ship one long shot across Mare Internum to the ball of Italy’s foot and Croton. When God said my work there was done, hello ship for a short journey to Agrigentum where the Temple of Juno stood. Unlike Paul’s journey, mine doesn’t show me returning to where I began. It’s a one way trip.
I wonder why I didn’t think about bringing myself home?
There is no such thing as a round trip though. There’s no such thing as full circle. Instead, there is a lot of wandering and although you might reach base camp again, this life is nothing but sojourning. At each port, the sea birds change. Some nest on cliffsides, others in ruins, others in squiggles of trees. I see some blue birds rising off the page.
I turn to Romans 10: 8-9 and see my great-grandmother marked an X at the beginning of verse 8 and an X at the end of verse 9. This is where they land:
“For salvation that comes from trusting Christ—which is what we preach—is already within easy reach of each of us; in fact, it is as near as our own hearts and mouths. For if you tell others with your own mouth that Jesus Christ is your Lord, and believe in your own heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10: 8-9.
Very few are called to embark on a far-flung journey. All of us, however, are called to explore the nearness of our hearts and mouths. You don’t have to be near Jerusalem or a port with wide cove. It’s not something you can trace neatly from point to point to point. For a lot of us, that journey will look like a messy scribble which will ease into a lilting line and eventually set free, aloft.
(map image from The Children’s Living Bible, Tyndale House, 1978.)