I only have one hour before I have to be somewhere else, but the information about the walk suggests taking two or three hours to fully explore all the sights this walkway has to offer. I have a decision to make, do I do it, or leave it? The guide tells me, “If you are quick and you want to see some things, you can get to enjoy something in an hour.”
What do I do? It’s not every day that you get to see the youngest volcano in the world, the 8th wonder of the world, so I’d better give it a good hour. I take a look at the map and all the things there are to see and decide that, if I am quick, I can see it ALL in my one hour! But I am going to have to do it fast, no dawdling. Get to point “A” and “click”, take a photo, get to point “B” and “click”. I did it, I completed it and took a photo at each point on the map. A part of me feels quite proud that I have ticked off every box in one hour when it was supposed to take three. Been there, seen that and taken the photos to prove it. Tick!
You may have already guessed where I am heading with my destination, you may already be saying to yourself, “I know where she is going, I know what point you are going to be making, lets just get going and get to it.”
In most contexts, there is one precious hour when we gather as church each week, commonly between 10am and 11am. In this hour we want to make sure we can tick all the boxes, see it all, do it all, and wrap it all up so it’s all done and dusted nicely within the time frame. This is the destination is it not?
Back to my walk story. Am I glad I had the chance to experience the volcanic lakes and rocks? Yes. I am impressed by my fitness as I quickly walk up 150 stairs and down 150 stairs, but I know that I am not really taking in what’s around me. I haven’t read all the information at each stopping point; I don’t have time to. I don’t really know what I am looking at, but I have a small visual idea and when I get home, I will study up all about it. Okay, who am I kidding, do I really believe I will do that?
When we turn up to ‘go’ to church for one hour a week, see the highlights, tick your box, take the photo and walk away, it may be better than nothing but if that is ALL we do, ALL the time we spend, then I think we are in trouble.
I need to take a break … where am I? I am so busy talking to myself that I don’t really know where I am! Okay, I have 15 minutes to make it back to the bus stop to get my ride back to the reception. I knew I was a fast walker, I can say ‘tick’ I have done it, BUT do I know where I am? Do I truly understand what I have just seen? Am I aware of what I have missed? The answer is No, No and No!
As I walk, I consider, what I am experiencing as a “journey walk’ rather that a ‘destination walk’? What would have made this experience better? Maybe if I had gone slower, if I stopped and took some time to read about what I was looking at. What if I had taken some food with me and sat in the most beautiful places and just savoured the surroundings and taken in the view? That would make this trip better. I might have learned more and would now have a better understanding of what I had seen which would help me to remember more. Doing this walk on my own, meant I could go at my own racing pace, with no one holding me up or asking me to slow down. If I was with a group we would have this shared the memory together. Yes, they may have frustrated me because they might have wanted to stop at different places and read all the information signs. They may have wanted to talk about the things we were seeing and experiencing or stop for a drink. What if I was made to stop and someone was to point things out to me and discuss what we are seeing? What if we were able to ask questions, that we must find the answers to? But I would not have been able to do that in one hour – impossible! And yet if I am honest, all these things are what makes the journey much richer and more exciting. I sure would sacrifice my individual pace to share this experience with someone else. It is not every day that you see steam pouring out of the ground and volcanic lakes with blue and white smoke. I don’t regret rushing through to see what I have seen. I just know that there is a better way to see it. There’s a better way to do it.
And yet, this is what we have tried to do for so long in our churches, haven’t we? What is it that makes us think that community and life, learning and discovery can all be done within the hour of 10-11am one day a week with largely with one person talking up the front and everyone else sitting and watching? It is very interesting how sacred that space is in the church, almost untouchable. As I walk this track, I realise I am doing the same thing with this experience. Yes, I am glad I have done something, but I don’t want to do life this way. If it is important to grow deeper and richer in God and with each other, why do we limit that to simply one hour between 10 and 11 on a Sunday morning?
It is so dangerous and risky to ask the question, “Is there a better way to grow and learn and connect?”. What are we really holding onto? What is the treasure that are we seeking? I don’t just want a small taste; I don’t just want a glimpse of God, I want to immerse myself in Him, I want Him to consume me, I want to be in a community that changes and transforms me! We can’t do that in a rush. Yes, Jesus can transform us in an instant, He can graciously meet us in a moment, but has called us to community because He knew we needed so much more.
It is now 10 minutes to catch the bus. Quick, I know I can get there! Made it, with 5 minutes to spare ... whoo whoo … the crowd goes wild!
But let’s be careful what we cheer for. Is it really the point to finish at 11am on the dot, having ticked off everything, is that really the destination? Oh right, now the bus is 6 minutes late! How dare it, when I walked so fast to make the deadline! How many times have we sat in church watching the clock thinking, “I’ve got be somewhere” or “I would rather be somewhere else”? As time ticks by feeling indignant and thinking, “how dare they run over time.”
I look at the brochure of the walk when I get home. The opening statement says:
“Connect with the beating heart of the world’s youngest geothermal valley. It’s unique history and legacy. This valley continues to live, breathe, and develop. It is fresh, it is new it is changing every day. Immerse yourselves in the stories at the Mount Tarawera volcanic eruption.”
Wow! Far out! Did I miss that or what?
I wonder how much we miss. Like me on the walk today, we get home and haven’t talked to anybody, we haven’t met anyone. We haven’t heard the valley live, breathe and develop. We haven’t taken the time to really understand what we are looking at or consumed the rich legacy and history in the land. We have missed that it is changing every day and we haven’t immersed ourselves in the stories passed down from generation to generation.
We just can’t do that in an hour sitting by ourselves looking forward. I didn’t do that today, in the “wham…man.. go... valley”. Oh gosh, I don’t even know how to say it!
On the ride back, the bus driver teaches me how to pronounce it correctly. Waimangu (why-mung-oo). He goes on to tell me more about the place I have just been, and its extraordinary history. In the 10 minute drive back, I learn more than what I learned in the whole hour I had been walking. I was so thankful he was a storyteller and helped me fill in the many gaps that I had missed.
In the quest for the end destination, do we sacrifice the pace and joy of the journey? Maybe this is just as important as getting to the end on time, or maybe even more important? Or maybe the destination is the journey?
Lord, teach us a different way.