The church camp I grew up going to every summer had a tradition that, in retrospect, was somewhat odd. One of the songs we regularly sang as part of mealtimes or worship services was the folk song “500 Miles.” I always naively assumed this was just a camp song, and it wasn’t until much later in life that I realized it was more widely known and popularized by Peter, Paul, and Mary.
I say this was an odd tradition because it’s not a particularly “church-y” song. Even so, I think it became so popular with us campers because it captured something about our experience of the week. The last verse of the song says:
Not a shirt on my back, not a penny to my name
Lord, I can't go a-home this a-way.
We would sometimes joke that after a week of camp, the lyric should be “Not a CLEAN shirt on my back” and we didn’t have a penny to our name because we spent all our allowance on snacks from the canteen. Jokes aside, however, the lyrics to the song helped us name that after the journey through a week of camp, we were different people. We couldn’t just go back home the same way we came because the time in the wilderness had changed us.
Today is Ash Wednesday when we begin our Lenten journey, which is it’s own kind of sojourn through the wilderness. We have chosen the theme “Turn/Return” for our worship services this year. Throughout this season there will be invitations to turn away from the things that cause harm, that isolate us, that hold us back or keep us from living fully. But in every invitation to turn there is also an invitation to return to the root of who we were created to be, which is love.
My hope is that wherever this Lenten journey takes us, we would trust that God will meet us there and invite us to go back home not the same way we’ve always been but as transformed people.