Road Trips and the Journey of the Mass
I have loved being on the road ever since I was young. Each summer my scout troop—Troop 110 from Barberton, Ohio—put on summer camps for us around Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. These camps always meant the chance of going on a road trip. There was something exciting, refreshing about going to the store and buying snacks which we usually weren’t allowed to buy, getting into the car, and heading off to a new, somewhat unknown destination. Certainly, the ending location was the reason for the trip, but the journey it took to get there, for me, was always one of the most enjoyable parts of camp.
I know that not everyone loves going on road trips, and the reasons people have for their displeasure with them can be understandable. Yet, why for some people is being crammed together in a car on the road for multiple hours so enjoyable? Having the right perspective can help for the greater appreciation and enjoyment of a good road trip.
For a majority of the year, most of us operate within the same fifteen-to-twenty mile circles. We drive the same roads, see the same signs and billboards, visit the same stores and coffee shops, run or cycle by the same houses on the same routes, and encounter, generally, the same people on a daily or weekly basis. Eventually, this ocular routine can become less and less stimulating and even uninteresting, which can translate to a numbing of our normally excited and inspirational selves.
Going on road trip takes us outside the circle and breaks away from what has become normal, even uninterestingly so. We see different things—roads, trees, signs, buildings, and cities. We breathe different air, walk into different coffee shops and stores, and encounter new people we know are operating within their own twenty-mile circles.
There is a freshness in being in a new place, and this freshness can transport us to a different mental place as well. When we are in a new place we can begin to think new thoughts. We can set aside struggles and challenges we have with certain people and situations as we experience reality in a renewed way.
The Church’s Eucharistic liturgy, especially when it is done well, takes us outside of what is normal; it takes us to a realm beyond our earthly, temporal space. In the liturgy, we see different things, smell different things, hear different things than we would on a normal morning. Going to Mass on Sunday breaks us outside of our normal daily routine and for a good reason. It is a reminder that encountering God is an encounter with the Being who is mystical and otherworldly, yet can be found in our everyday experience.
In The Wellspring of Worship, a masterpiece on the cosmic depth of the liturgy, Jean Corbon states, “The church of stone or wood that we enter in order to share in the eternal liturgy is indeed a space within our world; it is set apart, however, because it is a space that the Resurrection has burst open.” Our churches are designed in a specific, intentional, beautiful, and incarnational way to help our minds and hearts journey to God. For this reason, the church building, the place of encounter with God, should look drastically different than its surroundings, inside and out. These places should help transport us—mentally and spiritually, body and soul—to an otherly place, a place outside of space and time, yet one within our own world.
Just as driving in the car down the road for hours can be grueling to some and transforming for others, liturgy can be transforming for some and grueling for others. Some of the reasons people have for not liking the work of liturgy are even understandable… but only if they misunderstand the purpose of the liturgy and struggle to truly enter into the ritual.
If we really allow ourselves to enter into a road trip—the newness of the sights, the smell of the fresh air, the conversation with friends—it can be an enjoyable experience. After a great road trip we can come back to our lives with a fresh energy and perspective, maybe seeing our normal routine in a new way.
Similarly, entering more deeply into the Mass can change our experience of the Mass completely. Instead of a weekly spiritual chore, entering into the Eucharistic liturgy can be a refreshing part of our day or week, a brief spiritual road trip where we are transported body and soul, but only if we have such an approach. By having the right perspective and appreciation of what liturgy is and can do in our lives, the liturgy becomes not a task to be done, an appointment to be checked off, but a rejuvenating spiritual journey. The destination then lies in taking the fruit of that journey back out into our normal, often routined, everyday life.