Spirit and Vapor

I wonder if there is a way to envision and experience life with God without at least some sense of journey. Some sense of pilgrimage, wandering, and being on a path with and toward the Divine. And in all of that, paradoxically, is also a sense of home: leaving home, going home, being home. And for me, the ache for home includes a longing to know what home actually means.

Have you heard Dolly Parton’s song Travelin’ Thru? It’s from an amazing 2005 movie, Transamerica, about Bree, a pre-operative transsexual who finds out s/he has a teenaged son who wants to become a porn star. Posing as a Christian do-gooder (because she doesn’t want her son to know the truth about her), Bree takes the boy on a cross-country trip from New York to Los Angeles. This is a tender, heart-wrenching story of redemption and love. Dolly Parton sings a poignant song of pilgrimage that moves my heart every time I hear it. Travelin’ Thru is a hymn of questions and longing, faith and hope, loss and grace:

Like a poor wayfaring stranger that they speak about in song
I’m just a weary pilgrim trying to find what feels like home
Where that is no one can tell me, am I doomed to ever roam
I’m just travelin’, travelin’, travelin’, I’m just travelin’ on.

Jesus’ life evokes for me a notion of home, and the seemingly universal longing for home, Just as Travelin’ Thru and Transamerica do. But really, what is home? Where is home? As many know very well, it is not necessarily the home and community one grew up in, nor with one’s biological family. In fact, that seems so quaint, and passé. Instead, we often talk about the homes we have made for ourselves and the family we have chosen, a family of friends often radically different from what we were given at birth. This makeshift sense of home and family becomes our anchor in an uncertain world.

It seems that, based on the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, he would have known well the uncertainty of home, the blessed gift of friends as family. And the fleeting nature of everything that we think shapes our lives.

Here are the very familiar first words of Ecclesiastes:

            Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
                     vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

But the word translated here as vanity? It really means vapor, or breath.

            Vapor of vapors! All is vapor.

All is vapor. Maybe even God.

The thing about vapor is that you can never really lay hands on it, even when you are in the midst of it. Yet that seems to be where our home is, in God, in the vapor. Together with all of God’s creation, in the vapor.

Vapor is lovely. The wisps carry a beauty and mystery that is absent from that which appears to be solid. In the fall, the morning fog often lays in ribbons in the hollows of the mountains, both muting and illuminating the blazing color of the trees. In springtime, the ribbons and bowls of vapor hold and gather the tender new growth of the season.

It is in the vapor that we must dare to answer God’s invitation into relationship. It is in the vapor where we are found by our Creator. Our Sacred Companion guides us through the veil that brings us home, and as we are opened evermore to God’s touch.

God made me for a reason and nothing is in vain
Redemption comes in many shapes with many kinds of pain
Oh sweet Jesus if you’re listening, keep me ever close to you
As I’m stumblin’, tumblin’, wonderin’, as I’m travelin’ thru