An Evangelical Pilgrimage
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Posts from — September 2009

Windsor Island Road

My Route

Keizer, OR :: It’s important enough to me to bring my bike on this trip that I’d be willing to sacrifice one – no, two – of my seven boxes of books to fit the bike in the trailer or RV. Something I’ve discovered in the last couple years, but have yet to fully embrace, is that I love exploring the world from the seat of my bike. Nothing compares to a good walk, especially one that is slow and rambling and meditative. But biking is under-appreciated for its writerly pace.

I do a lot of my creative writing and grant writing in coffee shops. Since coming to Keizer, I’ve been riding each morning to Coffee Paradigm, a great little coffee shop located in what was once a house  built in 1914. Coffee Paradigm is an easy three mile ride from where Kate, Molly, and I are staying at my parents’ place. I decided to take the scenic route on my way home from the coffee shop today. I didn’t have a map, or a cell phone in case I got lost, but I wasn’t too concerned. I pointed my bike in the general direction of home and let the road take me where it would.

Where the road took me was on a nine mile detour. I got on Windsor Island Road, which quickly twisted and turned its way right out of the Keizer city limits. The road narrowed and the pavement changed from cement to asphalt. The houses and schools and churches disappeared, and I was surrounded by orchards, nurseries, and hop fields.

It was beautiful but I was lost. Windsor Island Road became Simon Street became 9th Avenue became Salmon Street became Ravena Drive. I thought about turning around, but I have this thing against backtracking and so I kept going with the vague hope that River Road, Keizer’s main drag, was somewhere to the right.

A gentle rain started to fall. The bike lane had long since disappeared, but traffic was light. Occasionally a gravel or manure truck rumbled past me on my left. I waved casually in the country way to the tractor going the other direction. I wished I had my cell phone. I thought about asking directions from the farmer who had driven his truck to his mailbox. Instead I said hello and kept riding. Two mean dogs chased me down the road. I outran one and yelled at the other to go back home, which it did, thank God. I was reminded of something I read earlier in the day. It was in Psalm 124, which in the Benedictine short breviary is labeled “a song of pilgrimage”: “Praise be to the LORD, who has not let us be torn by their teeth.”

Finally, improbably, when I was starting to despair, I climbed a difficult hill. I stopped at the top to catch my breath and found myself standing just a few feet away from a sign marking the Keizer city limits. I was close to home, even if I didn’t know the best way to get there (see the above map).

I wasn’t annoyed that I rode 12 miles when I was expecting three. I saw nine extra miles of countryside I probably wouldn’t have seen in a car, where it is too easy to turn around, if I would have taken the scenic route at all. I experienced firsthand – and on the world’s most fuel efficient vehicle – one of the key characteristics of Keizer: the suddenness of its proximity to farmland. I want to ride my bike around the little towns we visit across America. I want to get lost but not too lost. And, now that I know where Windsor Island Road ends up, I may want to do today’s ride again. But on purpose.

September 30, 2009   No Comments

Something Worth Having

Keizer, OR :: Marilynne Robinson is the author of “Housekeeping”, “Gilead”, “Home”, and a book of essays, “The Death of Adam.” She is one of my favorite writers, and I remember “Housekeeping”, especially, as a work of severe beauty.

In an August 31, 2009 interview for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, Bob Abernethy asked Robinson, who is also an instructor at the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop, what are some of the most important things she wants her writing students to understand. I’ve never sat in one of Robinson’s classes, but I try to learn from her books and essays what it means be to a writer of faith engaging with the world. Her answer to Abernethy’s question is encouraging when I start to despair about whether the OTNR book will have anything new for the world:

That [the students] have their own testimony to offer, that if they think about what they perceive and what they feel carefully, if they watch other people closely and magnanimously, they will have something new to say, something that’s an actual addition to what has been said. That they have no obligation to be derivative or imitative in any way. That is absolutely not the point. I want them to know that if they are thoughtful people, if they have the courage to evaluate things independently and to enjoy the processes of their own thought, then they will give the world something new, something worth having.

September 29, 2009   4 Comments

Two Questions about Maps

Fingerprints of God

Keizer, OR :: Have you ever noticed how the isobars on a weather map (the lines connecting points with the same atmospheric pressure) look like the fingerprints of God?

Have you ever considered that the 57 boxes of books you are storing at your parents’ house make up a map of your life – where you’ve been, where you’re going, where you want to go?

September 28, 2009   5 Comments

Packing and Cleaning and “Moving”

Portland, OR:: We’ve been packing and cleaning and “moving” all of our stuff for the last few days. I’m tired. My body aches today. This morning I’m sitting on the floor in our old home gearing up to clean the oven. It’s the last thing that needs deep cleaning in our place. I can’t wait until it’s finished.

Every time we move we say it should be the last time, and yet we continue to move. Since John and I have been married (7 years this November) we will have moved our stuff 8 times! This is our 9th! I hope our resting place after this journey is a place we can call home for a long time.

A little on stuff: Stuff is everything that you need and think you need. Most Americans have much more than we actually need. There’s a book called Material World that documents families from all around the world with all of their earthly possessions in front of their home with them. It’s dramatic and tells an interesting story about what we think we need. I felt like this on Friday. Almost everything we owned was out in front of our house before we played trailer Tetris (making it all fit just right, thanks Jon R.). There was just so much! I hope we develop lasting habits over the next year regarding stuff and learn to live with a lot less. But even if we settle into a more permanent home next time I don’t want to keep accumulating stuff. We just don’t need that much.

As for today, we turn in our keys and make our final drive with all of our stuff to John’s parents’ home in Keizer, OR. They have been extremely generous letting us borrow their van, watching Molly and providing us with a room in their home to live for the next month. (Thank you!) The emotions are starting to catch up with me too. I had a good little cry yesterday and I’m sure I have a few in store for today and tomorrow. I love you Portland. I love you my dear Portland friends.

(I put moving in quotations because we’re not really moving in the traditional sense. I had to pack all of our stuff into three different categories: 1) the next 5 months, 2) the following 9-11 months on the road, and 3) long-term storage. I’m happy to say we have everything we need for the next 5 months in 3 suitcases and two bins. But John’s books deserve a dedicated post. He has over 50 boxes of books in storage and 7 boxes of books he wants to bring on our trip…all “essential.” I’ve asked him to narrow it down to 3 or less. We’ll see. He’ll need some encouragement from everyone I think.)

September 27, 2009   9 Comments

Eight Days and Counting

Portland Sign

Portland, OR :: It’s hard to believe that in just eight days the slug-line for these posts won’t say “Portland, OR.” While we will spend the month of October in Salem, just 45 minutes south of Portland and no further from the Pacific Ocean; and while the bulk of the OTNR project won’t begin until November when we travel down to California (I want the project to end in Oregon, rather than start there) – I am already homesick. I pretend that when we get back next fall we will just jump right back into life, but it can’t be that way.  We’ll be strangers in our own city, at least for a while.

The more practical matter at hand is packing. I’m so busy with grants and my writing projects that Kate gave me just one responsibility – to pack my books – and a firm deadline: the end of August. Into the third week of September and my books are only half-packed. The issue is that I have been hand-entering the ISBN of every one of my estimated 1,000 books into a program called Bookpedia on my computer. “Very monk-like,” Dave says. And it’s true. I told the story in an earlier post about the monk who sold his copy of the Gospels and gave the money to the poor. Books may be my final test of salvation. I think they are an anchor for me, but they may also be dead weight. I have 200 books set aside to bring with me on this trip. Libby jokes that we will need to buy a second trailer just to carry them all.

September 17, 2009   6 Comments