lenten journal: traveling mercies


    Several years ago, Ginger and I went to Las Vegas because we had never been. We were already in California for a gathering with my side of the family and we tacked on a couple of days and drove from San Diego to Vegas, staying – of course – at the Hard Rock Hotel. On the morning we were packing to leave, I walked down to put the suitcases in the car and ended up following three people, two men and a woman, out of lobby and out into the parking lot. For them, it was still the night before. As they walked, the woman said, “Well, I’ll you two things you always gotta know. You gotta know where you’re going and you gotta know where you’re at.”

    “Hell,” said one of the men. “I’ve always known where I’m at, but I ain’t never known where I was going.”

    Maundy Thursday is one of the markers in my life that reminds me, to borrow their grammar, where I’m at. Fifteen years ago, as best Ginger and I can remember, we got to go to Israel and Palestine and had a chance to, as the old song says, walk that day where Jesus walked. One of those places was the Garden of Gethsemane, where we were given a good bit of time to sit among the ancient olive trees, which our guide told us had root systems that could have dated back to Jesus’ time. Whether her information was factual didn’t matter; I was captured by the thought that we were in the same garden, the same piece of earth, where Jesus had prayed with his disciples. I sat on one of the benches in silence with one of the other folks on the trip for a while and then we began to sing one of the songs from Godspell, “On the Willows.” (I had recently sung the song in a production of the play at Cambridgeport Baptist Church, so it was fresh in my mind.)

    on the willows there
    we hung up our lyres
    for our captors there
    required of us songs
    and our tomentors, mirth

    saying sing us one of the songs of Zion
    sing us one of the songs of Zion
    sing us one of the songs of Zion
    how can we sing
    sing the Lord’s songs
    in a foreign land?

    The roots became a metaphor of the thread of love and sorrow that reached across the centuries to find us in that garden, that place where Jesus had been in his darkest hour, after he had washed the dust of life from the feet of his friends knowing, as John so beautifully says, “he had come from God and was going to God.” He knew where he was and where he was going. That night, neither one held much comfort.

    I came home from the Duke restaurant tonight to find a message from someone I have reconnected with, thanks to Facebook, who asked for the lyrics to a song Billy and I wrote years ago called “Traveling Mercies.” She is going through a difficult time in her marriage and, she said, the song just popped into her mind today and she couldn’t find the old CD and did I have the words. By the time I read her words, a couple of other friends with whom we share history had “replied to the thread,” as Facebook calls it, leaving the lyric:

    take bread for the journey and strength for the fight
    comfort to sleep through the night
    wisdom to choose at the fork in the road
    and a heart that knows the way home

    go in peace live in grace
    trust in the arms that will hold you
    go in peace live in grace
    trust God’s love

    All I had to add was

    and for the faithful
    and for the weary
    and for the hopeful
    here is my prayer . . . .

    Maybe it’s not so much we have to know where we are as much as who we are. The gospel GPS that let Jesus know he had come from God and was returning to God served to be more identifier than locator: he was Love Incarnate, God made known in a way that had never happened before. Remembering who he was, he washed their feet, he prayed for them in the Garden, and then he went to the Cross because the thread of Love had to go through death to show us Love is the Last Word.

    So, on this Maundy Thursday, I know who I am and who I’m with. That’s enough.

    (Go in) Peace,


    1. Milton –

      Thank you so very much for all of the words and songs you’ve shared with us at Lent this year. It’s been such a blessing I can hardly put my gratitude into words. My Lent has been very busy this year and I’ve not been able to pause/focus the way I would have liked to. But I come to your works every day you write and they have meant so much.

      And you are “with” a lot of us by these gifts. God’s blessings go with you in your new career.


    2. Hi, Milton,
      This Lenten season when I’ve checked my emails, I clicked on “don’t eat alone” first! I look forward to your musings, your music, your quotations, your challenges, and your faithfulness. I feel like you are a preacher who is in the same boat as me!
      Thanks for sharing!
      p.s. who is singing “traveling mercies?”

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