Anyone who is going on a road trip with children or the child in an adult who keeps asking, “Are we there yet?”
knows it is good to plan on ways to play away the miles and the boredom with road games, activity books, trinkets, and videos to view on built in screens or hand-held I Pads, or books to read on Kindle; all of which come with a price tag attached.
It may not sound like it at first hearing, but today’s Scripture is filled with suggestions for road trip games, and they’re all free!
One game is waiting to be found in the little snippet cut from a long story which has us stumbling over the name for a place called Baal-shalishah. (Bā’al-shal’-i-shah); named for Baal, the Canaanite god of the king, who was in power during the time of the prophets, Elijah and Elisha.
When a messenger arrives with food, a contest begins as to which god gets the credit for the gift: the king’s Baal who demands sacrifices on an altar to bring rain in a time of drought, and immoral, sensuous orgies to entice Baal to have the earth bring forth an abundant harvest, or the God Elisha trusts?
And so Elisha answers the question asked when looking at a meager amount of food, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” with his, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’”
Hear the same conversation going on in the Gospel as Phillip, when seeing a large, hungry crowd coming toward Jesus asks Him, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” and calculates, “Six months’ wages would not buy bead for each of them to get a little.”
Like a replay of Elisha’s response, Jesus took a boy’s lunch of five barley loaves and two fish, “and when he had given thanks, he distributed it…as much as they wanted” – with leftovers that filled twelve baskets!
The matching pair of stories invites a road trip game that is both a test and a discovery.
The test is a question about eating – on the road, in a restaurant, at a picnic table, by a cook stove or camp fire:
“Do we pause to consider who provides us with what we are about to eat?” Do we eat without thought? Without tracing our food back through the place it was purchased and the people who work there, the transport system, the suppliers, the farmer, to the One Elisha named: “the Lord?”
The road trip game that begins with the test question with the correct answer being: “Yes, we pause where we are when we stop to eat, and trace whatever we are eating, back to Elisha’s word: “Lord” and do what Jesus did “give thanks.”
The second part of the game is a discovery that carries forward one traveler’s response to a scene he saw and turned into a poem later put to music and sung as a hymn, said to have been inspired by an English countryside, but it is a translation from a German “Peasant’s Song” composed by Matthias Claudius after looking at a sketch depicting a family in a North German farmhouse singing a song of thanksgiving for the harvest. The words he heard in German, we now sing in English:
We plough the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land;
But it is fed and watered by God's almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain
All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord for all His love
He only is the maker of all things near and far;
He paints the wayside flower, He lights the evening star;
The winds and waves obey Him, by Him the birds are fed;
Much more to us, His children, He gives our daily bread.
We thank Thee, then, O Father, for all things bright and good,
The seed time and the harvest, our life, our health, and food;
No gifts have we to offer, for all Thy love imparts,
But that which Thou desirest, our humble, thankful hearts.
The game is to spot what the hymn names: flowers, stars, birds, and then follow the counsel of a vacationer who,
when seeing me snap one photo after another said, “I let my mind be the film.”
Mental photos that become lasting impressions that expand the road trip game to two more discoveries, one a troubling truth, and the other an awakening.
A troubling truth was discovered by a European family as they took their once-in-a-lifetime trip across the United States.They imagined seeming scenes described in Katherine Lee Bates’ “America, the Beautiful” of purple mountains, amber waves of grain and alabaster cities; but – as they traveled, they also saw parched fields, trash-littered streets, poverty-stricken families, crime-ravaged neighborhoods.
One discovery of two, with the second being an awakening to what Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote: “that it is the great minds who believe most fervently in unforeseen possibilities."
A road trip’s potential – to let the hard sights that show our nation’s needs be seen as a possibility to do some small service that can help to reverse the ravages of crime, pollution, hunger, and poverty, and come back from vacation to take up that pledge.
In an impoverished area of a city a trashed vacant lot is now a community garden that not only yields food but
also conversations among former gang members and the people they robbed.
It is a place to discover an unseen possibility of an awakening to practice responsibility and become a community working, eating, playing, laughing together – like the folks at Elisha’s and Jesus’ picnics.
All parts in a road trip game that has us seeing sights that tests us to name “all good things around” us, and direct our thanks to the One Who sends them; and, when spotting sights that mar God’s creation and creatures, “believe most fervently in unseen possibilities” and pledge to turn “bad things” into “good things,” maybe as simple and as basic as discovering “Tickle the earth with a hoe and she laughs with a harvest.” (Douglas William Jerrold)
One more road trip game waits to be discovered in the Gospel comment: When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by, himself.
It doesn’t need to be said: vacations can be exhausting, and so there is the quip: “I need to take a vacation after a vacation!” and we should add, “We need to take a vacation while on vacation!”
The remedy is this game Jesus played by being alone on a mountain…a place above and free of distractions;
what some call “a thin space” and others “a God moment” – nothing between Creator and creature.
A place, a time the Apostle Paul prayed first-century Christians, living in the idol cluttered and cosmopolitan city of Ephesus would take time to experience, and we, too, as we read his letter: I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
The road trip game played on vacation and when back home by breaking away to a “thin space,” a “God moment.”
Our ASP teams returned to us with a story that becomes our incentive as they told of an evening retreat to a mountain with a breathtaking sight before them, and as Amy Overholtzer reported, a large wooden cross behind them.
The ultimate road trip game that can be played, and needs to be played, on the road and at home, every night, and in what St. John of the Cross called a “dark night of the soul.”