Those We Meet on the Road

Silhouette of woman sitting on the ground facing a road. Text reads: "Those We Meet on the Road"

Roads are thin spaces.

I often romanticize thin spaces — their defiance of clear boundaries and their endless possibilities. They represent a reality of spiritual realms that are often rationalised in our pulpits and pews. And I love them for it. The world can drain for us even the desire to believe in what can’t be understood, and thin spaces provoke us to stand against that sucking whirlpool.

But thin spaces are also bloody. Roads especially.

For where there are spaces to hide in places not quite here and not quite there, there are those who will violently inhabit them. And in garish twist of irony, the clash of weapons on the road…on the bridge…on the shore…; or the rape of the defenceless at twilight…at sunrise…; or the invasion of home at the threshold…these all create new spaces formerly unknown until the evil is done.

I want to believe that liminality has a glamorous power to undo such violence committed within the realms of sacred unknowing. But the truth is, we are just as vulnerable and hurt in the thin spaces as we are in the everyday. We aren’t made to become superheroes in the spiritual realm.

The road between Jerusalem and Jericho was just such a bloody thin space. Folks with all kinds of ethnicities and backgrounds travelled here, including those of dubious character lying in wait. And there were those who refused to wait at the sight of blood, and simply passed on by. Passing through a thin space doesn’t guarantee any kind of spiritual illumination or grandiose insight. It only means one is moving in and through it. The level of our awareness is up to us.

So who’s responsibility is it when we’re attacked in the not-quite-here-but-not-quite-there places? Who will helps us? Who comes to fetch us? To advocate for us? To be present with us?

The Stranger.

If anything, the parables of the Good Samaritan shows us our own weakness in knowing who is our neighbour. In the murky places of the world that aren’t well defined, that are overcome with violence, or that everyone needs to traverse but few are willing to be responsible for, it is the One whom we have called “Stranger” that must become our Helper.

Without that reflection, without that crossing of established norms, we continue to pass on by down the road, we remain left for dead in the ditch, and we continue to insist to God that we already know what love is. The Stranger becomes our Teacher. The Teacher.

I might have my beliefs about immigrants, but all those folks on the border of US and Mexico are Strangers to me. I might believe I have my understanding of Indigenous justice in Canada, but my community with Indigenous people determines that I have no right to claim understanding.

I really don’t know those of whom I claim to understand.

I know it is a struggle to hear the words of those we have other-ed. It is hard to walk through the spaces we wish were romantic and peaceful, but are pockmarked with bullets, and soaked with blood. When our lives have been relatively quiet up until now, when we have kept our heads down, our taxes paid, and our words kind, trying to navigate these battered roads seems…oppressive.

But if violence and oppression can create thin spaces all their own, the truth is that light and love have already re-encompassed those spaces to re-create them all once again.

The many Strangers we meet on our roads will challenge who we are and who we believe ourselves to be. But roads are made to be travelled on, and not dwelled upon. And trust me, there are many to traverse. The hard road to Jericho is filled with those not like us.

And that is all gift in every way.

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