15 January 2014

A Wayfaring Stranger

In the morning I sit down at the computer, striving with my mind again, working hard to etch holy words into it, using my fingers, those instruments I'll use later at the piano, as one more way to reinforce paths across my consciousness.  

I memorized Hebrews 11 years ago, which is in a way what eventually led to my other memory projects, which is another story.  Except that I had lost the Hebrews words somewhere in my mind, and I've thought about that faith beginning so many times lately I decided needed to get those words back again.

"Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God..."

Did you ever think about how Paul wrote you into the very first slot in faith's hall of fame?  Teachers use that technique every day, affirming any evidence of the specific qualities we want our students to strengthen today.  Paul wants me to remember and to believe in the One who made me and everything I see out of nothing, without wavering.  

Because without a beginning, how will I travel the rest of faith's road?  The one that winds through lands unknown, the road Abraham knew so well?  Life's grand scheme is not the place to wander for wandering's sake alone.

"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go to a place he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went...dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise....

"These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off...and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth...But now they desire a better country...wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he hath prepared for them a city."

I sit at home, typing these words over and over and over, yet I am not home.  I have more under my feet and over my head than Abraham did, my boxes are {almost} all unpacked after my summer of life like Abraham during which I always and never felt at home, and I'm surrounded with comforts. 

It's just that I must not become too attached.

I've learned when I get too attached, I forget I'm still traveling, and I forget to keep moving toward that city with foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

Later I sit down at the piano, taking my volunteer responsibilities for a middle school choir seriously by preparation.  Good intentions without works would, in this case at least, be dead.  I don't sight read well in front of people, and choirs don't rehearse well with a pianist who's always hitting the wrong harmonies.

The first few measures stump me for a couple of weeks.  They're not technically difficult; in fact, they're easy, which in some ways makes conveying the atmosphere of the piece more difficult.  But the only "mood" word at the top of the score is "Mysteriously", and I'm not connecting the music with any sort of mystery.  

I write "flow" and "float" instead, my attempts to capture an elusive feeling, hoping those will give me a more defined intention to communicate through my fingers.

It's not that I don't like the piece; I feel like I could play it over and over all day, choir or not, without growing weary of it.  It's so hauntingly hopeful I can't shake it out of my mind.  It's more that I don't feel like I'm doing its potential enough justice.

I sit down to rehearse with sixth grade, and that's when they hit, those holy words from my time in front of the computer.

This song is Abraham.

"I'm just a poor, wayfaring stranger.
"I'm trav'ling through this world of woe.
"Yet there's no sickness, toil or danger
"In that bright land to which I go." 

And this song is that city, the holy Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, where there will be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.

"I'm going there no more to roam."

But here, now, until that day, I will always be roaming, on my way somewhere else.

"I am going home."

The "Mysteriously" written at the top of the page makes sense now.  It's Abraham, in the early morning, the last morning at home.  Everything is ready to go, his whole household willing to wander like strangers in a strange but promised land, wherever that is.  The sun peeks over the horizon, he gives the command, and away they go.

Not knowing where they're going.  That's the mystery.  I understand this kind of mystery, and I can play this kind of mystery.  I don't erase them, but "flow" and "float" sit meaninglessly at the top of the page now that I've written "Abraham....didn't know where he was going" next to "Mysteriously".

In the afternoon sunshine, I squat down beside various garden plants with my camera.  I'm thinking today especially about the volunteers.  The sunflower, the beans.  

I'm thinking about what it means to put down roots with the hope of a harvest when we know we're always traveling toward that other home, what it means to be a stranger, if also a delightful surprise, where no one expects you to even show up.

I pulled a slender, young thorn bush, only a single stem so far, out of the garden today.  I used pliers to keep my fingers safe.  That little thorn bush's root was longer than the stem above the ground.  I think about my roots, and whether they're as deeply rooted in Paul's faith that understands where this whole wide world comes from as the little thorn bush was in my garden.

The song still plays through my mind, while I'm out here where there can't be fruit without roots, where not even a pole bean can grow toward heaven without being firmly planted.  I wonder how a pilgrim grows roots, without anchoring in what can be seen.

Because even pilgrims, those whose wanderings through life on earth as if it were a strange land may seem to take away all sense of rootedness, need this faith-root clinging down into the Word made flesh, not living by bread alone but by this every Word coming out of God's mouth.

It's the only way to bear fruit, have purpose in life, keep the heart from setting itself on things moths and rust and thieves destroy.  

It's the only thing that kept Abraham going on until his death bed, still embracing the promises in faith that God would raise him up in the glorious and soon resurrection to receive them.  And it's the only thing that can keep me pressing forward, through trial and victory, all the way home.

{If you'd like to listen to my new favorite arrangement of this old spiritual, Sheet Music Plus, which sells the printed music, has sample recordings.  Here is one of Greg Gilpin's SAB The Wayfaring Stranger, as well as one of his SSA setting of the same piece.}


  1. I really enjoyed reading this post, Heidi!

    I like the new kind of mysterious. You make me wonder how much more depth could be added to many of the pilgrim hymns were they played with Abraham's kind of mystery.

    1. Yes, I do think the pilgrim hymns need a depth of mystery when they're played and sung. The mystery of not always knowing what's ahead on this earth, and the complete assurance of knowing exactly what reward awaits us ahead at the end of the pilgrim road.

  2. Faith living. It is what makes us happy, and gives us a reason to get through the trials of life. We are headed to a better land, a place we have not seen with our eyes, but we know through the eye of faith is all we have longed for. Your bean vines are headed upward, and so are you.

    1. Yes, indeed. I think the faith living you're talking about is the only thing that can make us happy in our world. Like Peter says, "But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye." Because we're looking forward to a better reward when Jesus comes.

  3. This post was especially beautiful, Heidi. Yes, indeed, you know about that kind of mystery. You lived it out with the faith of Hebrews 11, and now others are being blessed by it. Praise the Lord!

  4. Great post - and beautiful song! Lisa :O)


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