a New Land
How do you know that you are heading in the right direction?
My father was a NASA physicist, so I went to Duke University assuming that I should be a scientist. I took biology classes and got decent grades, although I didn’t find a lot of joy in the work. I was rowing, not sailing.
Then my roommate showed me a brochure for the “Duke Summer Semester in Israel,” offering a month of classes in Jerusalem and a month on an archaeological dig in the Galilee region. I had been enjoying my college classes in biblical studies, so I jumped at the opportunity. Like the members of the family of Abraham and Sarah, I “saw the promises from a distance and welcomed them” (Hebrews 11:13).
That summer in Israel changed my life. I discovered that everything I had read in the Bible was grounded in the rocks, plants, animals and people of an authentic place with a rich history. I realized that I had been “looking for a homeland” (verse 14), not because I wanted to emigrate from the United States but because I needed a place in which my heart, mind, effort and imagination could feel completely at home.
I returned from Israel to declare myself a religion major, and then set my sights on divinity school and a career in parish ministry. Never once have I looked back at biological science, the “country” I had left, nor did I seek “the opportunity to return to it” (verse 15). In ministry, I always feel as though I am sailing, not rowing. Yes, I have faced some stormy days, but I know that I am in the right boat.
When sailing to a new land, you often have to do some waiting. Weather is a factor in whether you can set sail or not, and sometimes the winds do not cooperate. But there is a reason that “it was dark over the deep sea” on the first day of creation, “and God’s wind swept over the waters” (Genesis 1:2). The Spirit of God is a mighty and creative wind that blows where it wants, and our job is to follow where it leads. Yes, we can row a boat in whatever direction we want, but such effort does not always move us toward the place God wants us to be.
“People who say this kind of thing make it clear that they are looking for a homeland” (Hebrews 11:14). Yes, that’s true. Abraham and Sarah were in search of a land where they could be completely at home, and so are we. The challenge for us is to follow the guidance of the Spirit as we make choices about what we will do, where we will live, whom we will love, and the community of faith we will join.
There will be twists and turns to our journeys, and of course nothing in this life is perfect. That is why we are always “longing for a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (verse 16). The challenge is to keep sailing, with the wind of the Spirit pushing us toward the city that God has prepared for us.
Prayer: May your Spirit move me, Lord, to the place you desire for me. Amen.