Today’s mass readings are about what happens at the end of the road. The readings came alive as I travelled this week from Mae Sot to Umphang. Route 1090 is nicknamed “the death highway”. A long stretch ascends into the mountains where for 114 km of it there are 1219 bends, curving to the left and the right. Just like our life, there are no straight roads.
“Of those who lie sleeping in the dust of the earth many will awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting disgrace.” (First Reading)
This pandemic has taught me to appreciate road trips as arriving at destinations do have a different emotional feel. It’s the wisdom that the journey changes us by the time we arrive, for in our belief there is a fork at end of the road of our earthly life either to everlasting life or disgrace.
Route 1090 took me up and took me down. The road was also slipping sideways. At stretches the view was breath taking, but most of it was mundane and arduous, curving and cutting through the thick rainforest. The road was narrow, and the mountain bends did not permit me to see what was further ahead. I knew my destination but not my journey. Death beckons all but how will we reach it?
Last weekend I was privileged to be at a retreat for returning Catholics. There I heard many different life stories. Like the road, things can suddenly change around the next bend. Some heard the call to return at the low points in life, few at the highs and others during the mundane grind of daily life where they wondered about life’s meaning. But all had a common realisation that God is faithfully present with us along the entire journey. At each bend he beckons us closer. If we ignore the call he will be at the next, 1219 and more till we respond.
At the end of route 1090, a trek through the rainforest awaited me. It was advertised that it would take 2 hours, but I realigned my expectation that it would take me 3. In painful reality, it took me 5 but the reward at the end was worth every ounce of energy. I had never before exhausted my physical energy for an event. Here in that last hour, and in darkness as well, I was on the Spirit that formed my mind.
When the trek was uphill, I did not want to see how much higher was the climb. I just focus on my next step but I found myself mumbling the Hail Mary every time it went uphill. My mortality was in better perspective. Like suffering in life, we don’t know how long it will last but prayers help us to the top of the hill. Sometimes it is even a false top as round the bend we see a steeper slope. Such is life.
As the trek when downhill, I felt pain in my old crumbling knees. I was alive to the very present as the pain would not allow me to wander elsewhere. In life at our lowest points, when we cannot see anyone but our own self, we must know that God is there present. It was on the flats that my mind wandered and was distracted by the heaven of a cold beer at the end of the trek. The mundane happenings in our life can drift us away from God. Until we find meaning.
There are no straight roads in life. The better prepared we are for the road trip, the better people we become arriving at the fork. Along the way, like today’s scripture readings were to me, the Word is amongst us.
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time