I spent much of July on the road for work. Most of the trips involved long airplane flights followed by long drives through unfamiliar territory. All of them have involved pre-dawn departures, and that when you are staying somewhere 15 degrees south of the Arctic circle, a midsummer dawn arrives at 3:30 a.m.
There were thunderstorms that closed airports, suspicious border guards to contend with, and a series of gate changes that required me to dash from one end of Minneapolis’ airport to the other, twice.
At times, my travels felt as if I were negotiating a set of rapids, threading my way through waves and rocks, trying to avoid capsizing, hoping to arrive at the other end with all my gear. I kept washing up at my destinations hungry, bedraggled and occasionally quite soggy. I fantasized about transporters that could beam me and my luggage from one end of the continent to the other in a matter of nanoseconds, conveniently, in the middle of the day, not the wee hours of the morning.
Two weeks ago in the readings of the Sunday Mass we read of Abraham, who entertained angels unaware, offering weary travelers cool water and a lavish meal. I tend to read that story from the perspective of Abraham and Sarah, a potent reminder that offering a generous welcome, even to strange travelers, may be richly rewarded. This year, instead, I heard it with the ears of the traveling stranger.
The grueling travels had made me more aware of how grateful I was for the ways in which I had been welcomed. The cool quiet of my colleague Elizabeth’s shady porch after being trapped on a plane full of rambunctious travelers; Denise’s warm and delightful company over a lunch long delayed by my late arrival; Mary who waited outside on a hot morning to be sure I would not get lost in the maze of the science complex. Each a sacramental encounter, each a potent reminder that I am a pilgrim in this world. Reminders, too, of what awaits us in heaven, a welcome replete with unearned, overflowing grace.
I’m once again on the road now, traveling to see family thousands of miles away. We left Philadelphia before dawn, and turned up on my brother’s doorstep many hours later, wrung out from battling the heat and Los Angeles traffic.
My sister-in-law opened her door wide, poured us cool glasses of water, and served us fruit from her garden. And once again I am reminded, no matter how long or difficult the path, no matter how travel worn and bedraggled I am at its end, God will welcome me home.
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Bryn Mawr. She also writes the blog Quantum Theology