‘May the road rise to meet me’? At my age, no thank you!

During lockdown in the early summer of 2020 I found myself occasionally ending a telephone conversation with the greeting ‘Stay safe’. It had become the new way to wish someone ‘Farewell’. The emphasis here was on the human responsibility to avoid the deadly Covid-19 virus. However, I prefer to end with the well-established ‘Goodbye’ because it is a contracted form of the sentence ‘God be with you’, indicating that he must be included in the benediction. When I hear fellow-Christians use such words as luckily or fortunately I like to ask, ‘Do you mean that the goddess Fortuna intervened? And, every time, I find that the speakers correct their narrative immediately to give the credit to the Lord. One old friend likes to say, ‘God bless. And he does.’

Recently, on my daily walk to maintain my health, an old Irish farewell kept entering my head – the tantalizing expression, ‘May the road rise to meet you.’ So I decided it was time that I searched the Scriptures to shed light on this, and other social greetings. I’m not too keen on the sentence as nowadays I find that uneven pavements with buried tree roots pushing up the surface of the tarmac can make me stumble and wobble when the road really does rise to meet me!

Greetings of peace

The standard word of Jewish blessing is ‘Shalom’, the Hebrew for peace. I guess it summarizes the full-bodied priestly benediction that begins and ends: ‘May the Lord bless you … and give you his peace’ (Numbers 6:22-27, New Living Translation, unless otherwise stated). We do well to remind ourselves from time to time that such greetings were not to be uttered out of mere habit. I still love to recall an incident when this first dawned on me nearly half a century ago. I had driven home from a ministry trip, arriving late in the night and was due to meet with church pastors in our town for an early breakfast the next morning. On waking, I realised I would be unable to stay alert among my colleagues, so I phoned the pastor on whose premises we were due to gather to offer my apologies. When he replied, ‘Peace, my brother’, I felt divine shalom ‘that passes all understanding’ flood my entire being.

‘Journeying mercies’

During my childhood years I often heard, in the closing prayer of the preacher, the request for safe travel for us all as we headed home, which was invariably referred to as ‘journeying mercies’. That phrase surely echoes the Irish blessing: ‘May the road rise to meet you’. When we turn to our Bibles, it comes as no surprise that the Lord is the one from whom we should request such ‘journeying mercies’.

[] Psalm 40:1-2 reminds us that it is: The Lord … set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.’

The Passion Translation renders this as: ‘Now he’s … steadied me while I walk along his ascending path.’ That adjective gives me the sense that I only need that Irish blessing if I am going into decline in my daily journeying. Surely the normal Christian life should be ‘onward and upward’.

[] In Psalm 66:9, ‘Our lives are in his hands, and he keeps our feet from stumbling.’ And he was:

[] Isaiah 63:13, the one who led them through the bottom of the sea … racing through the desert never stumbling’; but on reflection, since that generation that left slavery in Egypt did stumble disastrously, this observation really only applies to Joshua and Caleb, of course.

But we do have our part to play in safe travel. So, let’s give heed to the clues in the book of Proverbs as to how we should tread confidently on the path ahead of us:

[] Proverbs 3:20-23, Common sense and discernment … keep you safe on your way, and your feet will not stumble’ – stout footwear and a walking stick could be appropriate!

[] And in Proverbs 4:11-12 it is: Wisdom’s ways … lead you in straight paths. When you walk, you won’t be held back, when you run, you won’t stumble.’ Enough said.

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