When we talk about our spiritual journey, we often talk about the valleys. Then we talk about the mountains we climb – and the highs we get that help us when we end up back in the valley again.
Those highs and lows define what it is to walk through each day, each year, each decade, each life. But, after all those mountains you’ve climbed and river valleys you’ve crossed, have you ever got to the end of the road?
Vancouver is an end of the road place. All kinds of travelers, spiritual journeyers, freaks, drifters & hustlers seem to end up there at the end of the road. And then, beyond the end of the road, there’s always an island to get to.
What kind of a GOD lives on an island? Do we have an island theology? How does island life inform our whole spiritual journey metaphor? What does it mean when we get to the island?
Last week my brother and I took a pilgrimage to the island where Torontonian Ernest Hemingway found the end of the road. Hemingway was his generation’s Neil Young – leaving Ontario for a bigger canvas to paint upon.
Key West is the furthest south you can get in the United States. It’s a small island at the end of a long archipelago of islands – the tailbone of the Appalachian range – islands strung together like pearls by a ribbon of highway that runs you way out into the Gulf of Mexico until you reach – you know it – the end of the road.
Residents today descend from the Seminole Indians who lived there before the Europeans arrived. The thousands of little bays, inlets, shoals, reefs, and swamps attracted pirates looking for good places to hide while they plundered the cargo of ships taking goods in and out of the Gulf.
Piracy is difficult to tax so the young US Government put a stop to it and the residents turned to legalized, taxable, plundering. Successive generations wiped out the turtle, sponge, and shrimp populations of these once teeming waters.
Today residents plunder the wealth of tourists. From the very rich who arrive on yachts to guys like us who show up with a rental car and a few hundred bucks to buy seafood and gin – hoping to tap into a Hemingway vibe. Like this…
Even the bird was flying nowhere
floating - still- on the morning’s river of wind
the tarpon, under the bridge in the channel
swam but never moved from it’s place
sands of time between GOD”s toes
Waves roll in
Tide pulls out
since you started
time is without measure
life stringing together moments
as rare and as perfect
but more precious than pearls
time is all we’ve got
here to there
there to here
and hope is the place in between
I think I’ll stay
Key Wessst, FLA
February 5, 2010
How many of the residents of Key West are people like my brother and I who came for a visit – escaping the routine and the obligations and the pains of everyday life – and just never left? They found, at the end of the road, a place to take life out of gear and put it in idle. Key West is full of artists getting by, hustlers getting it on, drifters washed up – washing dishes or taking drink and food orders – all to keep those idle, ideal, sunset sunrise moments happening.
I rode my bike down to the wharf to watch the sun rise. There was a clutch people standing together smiling and chatting. Christians I thought. Who else gathers in smiling happy groups at sunrise? A big blonde guy sitting at the centre of the group, arms outstretched in mid-story seemed to be the pastor. Pedalling a little closer, he spotted me and we recognized each other from the bar the night before.
The sun was already up and the group was breaking up so I stopped to chat. Kevin told me his story. Never an early riser, a friend recommended starting every day with the sun’s rise. He found, bleary-eyed and sleepy, a group of regulars who chose to start each day, every day, by enjoying the wonder and beauty of the sun’s first kiss.
“Christian’s?” I asked.
“Nope” Kevin smiled “just sun worshippers I guess.”
Nice people, happy people, good people – harming no one and feeling no pain. The pain’s all behind them. I got that sense from quite a few of the locals I chatted with. They’d left behind the pain, the boredom, the struggle – and found a way to just keep things light and easy and simple.
A good place to be – no?
How many of us have created small islands in our own lives?
Retirement places, vacation places, bar stool places, couch potatoe places. Places where we can leave behind the pain and the struggle, take the journey out of gear and just put our lives into idle.
Jesus knew how to do that. Isn’t that why he’d turn the water into wine? To keep the party going – to help people spend just a little more time in that happy, carefree place where GOD’s juices flow and hope and love seem potent and real enough to taste? (John 2)
And isn’t that why he went into the desert for forty days? Was that the end of a road for him? Had he reached a place in his life where he knew it was either keep idling away – get a job in his dad’s carpentry shop – or do what he needed to do? Forty days of nothing – no food, no work, no places to go or things to do. Forty days in idle.
And so the story goes he was tested. Would he take it easy – take the easy road and exploit for all it’s worth. Why not? Don’t worry – be happy. We’re here for a good time – not a long time – in Margueritaville. (Luke 4)
When you get to the end of the road
and the pain is all behind.
You gotta decide
Either stay until you’re forced to leave
(feet first or dead broke evicted)
against the stream
courage starting back round
stepping towards new beginnings
in the same old circle but with a wider spiraling turn this time.
Southernmost point of USA
Key Wesst, Florida
February 5, 2010
No, there was something Jesus needed to do. There was a purpose burning in his heart. It was nothing new. Just that same old flame that burned in the bush for Moses. Just that same old flickering flame of a vision that Elijah and Jeremiah and Isaiah and Amos and Micah and …some of us still can’t put out no matter how many drinks or distractions or distances we put between us and that far off place. Jesus turned round, repenting, and started back, inviting everyone he met to come along. “Repent – for the kindom of GOD is at hand.”
There’s a place called heaven. I’ve seen it. It’s the same place where all that pain and suffering I tried to leave behind is. Heaven, like home, is where the heart is. Where the Christ lives. It’s not at the end of the road – it’s the place we return to – to begin again.