Sunset comes in like a whisper, hushing the robin’s monologue, stretching and bending the shadows until, at last, nothing speaks save the skies. They breathe deep navy words — slowly, confidently, and silence settles down. The lamp glows warmly, inside, and I pull my legs up over the pine bench and settle down into the posture of writing as the last remnants of Jasmine rice and watermelon dissipate into the air.
It’s quiet, at least as quiet as an afternoon can be on the second floor of an apartment building, perched at the edge, where the gully dips down into rain-soaked grass and back up again to meet the ragged blacktop edge just before the toll booth. This little corner of earth where residential and interstate meet is not a destination or a landmark, but I think Rich Mullins would have sung about it .
I think he’d have seen the gold in the way the sun fights for light here, like a farmer sees hope and life in the tiniest green shoot.
Maybe he’d have heard a melody in the rumble of the trucks which coast and pull their rattling brake just before the bend in the road, like he did when he sang “And the coal trucks come a-runnin’ / With their bellies full of coal / And their big wheels a-hummin’ / Down this road that lies open like the soul of a woman…” 
He saw beauty, somehow, where others only saw the tired corners, where others only saw the afternoon traffic jams and the faded street signs and the plodding of sojourners down the cracked and uneven sidewalks. When you know everything around you lies in shadow, waiting for the great awakening, when you know we’re all living just on the very cusp of seeing clearly and not through a glass dimly, well, then, there’s beauty in everything broken. Because as soon as that Star shown down into the stable and as soon as He was born, well, redemption was set in motion and that was “When the old world started dying / And the new world started coming on”. 
There have been sojourners as long as there has been time itself, mendicants wandering  yet wandering with purpose, through the dredges that are made holy with that same purpose. Sojourning is different than drudgery. Drudgery is repetition without hope on a horizontal plane. But sojourning! Ah, sojourning takes the repetition in which drudgery despairs, and views it with eyes opened by the God of Wonder Himself.
“If you think you are seeing the same show all over again seven times a week,” Frederick Buechner writes , “you’re crazy. Every morning you wake up to something that in all eternity never was before and never will be again. And the you that wakes up was never the same before and will never be the same again.”
And so, in the midst of the traffic chorus outside my window, and the unwashed laundry and the unanswered emails, in the midst of confronting evil and doubt, in the midst of working long into the night and consoling a child’s fever and answering unspoken fears, in between the lost moments of sleep and the sunrises awash with new mercies and endless grace, in the arms of everlasting love, “I’ll sing my song / and I’ll sing my song / in the land of my sojourn.”
Image Credit: Ben Pearson
September 19, 1997. Seventeen years ago. Seventeen years ago, Rich Mullins walked right out of this earth and slipped out of his body and right up through the veil that the Cross had already split apart for him and for us all. Seventeen years ago he went “out like Elijah, with a whirlwind in a chariot of fire”, just like he used to sing.
It was seventeen years ago, and I remember exactly where I was standing in the kitchen in the middle of a tiny town in Wisconsin, and how the words echoed out of the little fridge-top radio when I heard that he had flown. And I remember how I was just a teenager and just figuring things out, and how I wore out my Rich Mullins cassette tapes that year, until you couldn’t even hear the scratchy songs anymore. A little later, I sat in the basement of a tiny church and listened to Mitch McVicker, who was with Rich in the fatal car accident, sing songs from Rich’s posthumous album, The Jesus Record. Tears streamed down my face and into my heart and I knew Jesus was my own deliverer, my very own, and I knew right then and forever, “He will never break His promise, He has written it upon the sky.” And then later still, when I was yet again a little older but still figuring things out, I didn’t even get a chance to wear out An Arrow Pointing to Heaven because I kept giving my copy away and buying another one.
I can’t even tell you what passages or words or songs of his mean the most, because how can you pull out one line from a poet’s canon and separate it out from all the rest and say, “This is it.” You can’t. It doesn’t work that way. In the documentary “Homeless Man: The Restless Heart of Rich Mullins“, Father Simon said, “And I think that’s one thing that Rich and Saint Francis had in common is that they were both poets. They both had a vision and they were both willing to live that vision. Their poem was their life, not so much what they wrote.”
When Rich sang of Abraham “how one star he saw had been lit for me, he was a stranger in this land, and I am that, no less than he,” I could see the sojourning thread that ties us all together. Being one of Abraham’s stars and having roots all over, but none deep in one place, can sometimes feel like the edge of being from nowhere, the edge of not belonging. But we’re pilgrims, all. Rich was a sojourner and Jesus was a sojourner — and if the Son of Man sometimes didn’t have a place to rest His head and that detail didn’t mess up redemption one bit, then I know that anything that happens to me is gonna be okay, too.
And this man — who was once mistaken for homeless outside a church before one of his concerts — this man really was the single most influential person I’ve never met. He’s where I learned that this life is a little crazy and it’s a little hard; but nothing, really nothing, of earthly value worth holding on to that tightly, anyway. We’re not put here to pretend to be perfect, and piece together these unblemished lives and create a nice bubble for ourselves, we’re here to be real.
And to be alive.
And love and live with wild abandon.
And stand up loudly in the land of our sojourn, not caring what anyone thinks, and just be those wild arrows, pointing straight to heaven.
“Nobody tells you when you get born here
How much you’ll come to love it
And how you’ll never belong here
So I call you my country
And I’ll be lonely for my home
And I wish that I could take you there with me
…When the old world started dying
And the new world started coming on
And I’ll sing His song, and I’ll sing His song
In the land of my sojourn
In the land of my sojourn
And I will sing His song
In the land of my sojourn.”
And in that new world, I think, music will be danced out across the strings of a hammered dulcimer.
Aveline watched Fiddler on the Roof this weekend for the first time. I think she’s discovered a new love, musicals (are any of us really that surprised?) This afternoon, we listened to the soundtrack at her request, and she burst into tears listening to “Far from the Home I Love”.
“Dat girl, she was singing she wanted to go to da home she loved and she got on da train instead!”
She gets it, this kid. She feels the pull that tugs hearts in many directions. Only three years old and already so many trips to our various homes to be with the people we love, and always leaving, to go back to Florida again.
Another little sojourner. <3
The words get lost in the days, lost in the shuffle between high tide and low tide — the choreographed swap of sand and sea — lost in the couch cushions, like copper coins, lost in the fray, lost in the routine between breakfast and sunset.
This, of course, is exactly when I should be writing. Words are spun from the gossamer threads which wrap around our days. I can see them, glinting, drenched from the downpour, drenched from the puddles, drenched from the spray.
“You write while you are alive”, Anaïs Nin said. “You do not preserve them [living moments] in alcohol until the moment you are ready to write about them.”
And so, alive, I write.
We stick pins in a map and wonder which one will hold. We squint at the horizon and see mountains through the mirage, and yet, the pillar stands still. The life of a sojourner is not a rhythm of motion and stillness, like the poets would have you believe. Sometimes, there is no rhythm. Sometimes it is abrupt, sometimes it is whiplash, sometimes it is an awkward slow dance, a holding pattern at best. Sometimes, you fold up your belongings into a square, and load the truck, and don’t look back when every inch of you longs to cling to the roots you tried to push into the broken ground. But most of the time, you stand.
You stand even when your feet so dearly ache to run.
Spring here doesn’t approach slowly with neon green buds or opening blossoms. There is no fading ice, no crocuses or daffodils. Spring here is akin to a lobster in a pot of water, temperature unconsciously leaping upward, a baptism by immersion of drenched air and torrential rain until the whole wet world is submerged.
There is one month left between us and hurricane season, between us and and daily electrical storms. One month left until the six-month stretch of tropical storms begin and the canned goods stack up under the countertop and the gallons of water in the closet are restocked and clocks are reset by the rhythm of cyclical thunder and the afternoons are spent inside.
Inside, outside, inside, outside, inside.
One month left until the sidewalks are rivers and the windows are our constant view to the outside deluge.
I want to see beauty in it this year. I want to see beauty in the spongey grass and the low skies and the waterlogged earth and the thick roadside ponds and the one single shade of green coating it all. I want to see it for what it is, rather than what it is not. It is not the thin high skies specked with pollen and pine resin and wildfire, it’s not the sun-baked clay earth that shatters into a million immobile pieces every summer, it’s not twisted oak silhouettes or mountain ridges. The sunsets are pastel, not copper, but we are the same people here as we are anywhere.
This is a journey of becoming, after all, and a journey is not where you put on the skids and claw and pound your tent stakes in deeper and rage against the rain. Sojourning means you tend to your fires and your campsite wherever you are, keeping the light alive from dawn to dusk, no matter if you’ll pull up stakes tonight or in three months or in a year. You pull your loves in closer, you keep your eyes to the light, and in the darkness you see the One who pulls the tides and pushes the moon and punctured heaven to give you stars has not failed you yet.
And so you tarry, and so you sojourn, and so you live.