Pop music is literally replete with highway songs, probably because musicians spend so much time on the road. And even the ones that don't actually say the word "highway" are often about life on the road. The Eagles sang "standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see. . ." ("Take It Easy") and I wanted to go to Winslow and see what it looked like, even though I could not drive at the time and had not yet been west of the Mississippi. America's singing "Ventura Highway" and I wanted to know what that road was like, what it felt like to be on the open road, somewhere exotic (I thought) like Los Angeles, seeing new things and just driving, driving, driving. I suspect these early Seventies era songs really come to me now because of the intensity of longing and desire I had for wheels then, the sense that I was about to break free into a completely different level of existence once I had keys, car, and gas.
I purchased a car when I was barely 15 1/2, secured a learner's permit, and began to drive --- with my parents, that is. It wasn't an ordinary car. It was a 1972 Chevrolet Camaro, a very fast car for a kid who just graduated from a bike. However, I had already been sufficiently scared to death to be cured of any need for speed. My friend John secured his license a bit earlier than me. One night we were out in his mother's car and he decided to take the car through a four-way intersection that had a nice bump in it at 90 mph to see if the wheels would leave the ground. I think they did. All my fantasies of speed ended right there. I left such fantasies to the harmless world of music and drove my car like an old man. I took no risks.
And yet, the highway beckoned. At that time when you turned 16 and had a driver's permit, you could drive with any licensed driver. So, on midnight of the day of my 16th birthday, John and I climbed into my Camaro, backed it out of the driveway, and hit the road. We took a circular route through six counties, driving over 250 miles that night. What adventure! The names of the towns rolled by --- Madison, Reidville, Mebane, Siler City, Liberty, and so on, each name seemingly exotic and never before experienced. I felt free, grown up, excited, almost as if I could do anything. It was pure adolescent glee, for awhile at least.
Even now, though, that sense of wanderlust inhabits me. I dream over maps and plan for excursions. I think I love thinking about leaving home more than actually leaving home, and indeed one of the joys of leaving home is the thinking about coming home to the familiar. I'm restless. I want to go. I want to come home. The highway isn't fulfilling enough. Home is not quite all I want either. What a quandry!
And yet, what a God-ordained place in which to be --- content, but restless, having much, but wanting more.
The highway metaphor is, I was glad to learn, found in Scripture as well. In Isaiah 35: 8-10, the prophet presents a picture of God's chosen ones, the redeemed, returning to a restored Zion, a picture that spoke to the Israelites of a restoration to their land and to Jerusalem and also speaks of a coming Kingdom. "And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those that walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away."
It's not just Isaiah. Jeremiah implores God's people to "[s]et up road signs; put up guideposts. Take note of the highway, the road that you take" (Jer. 31:20). Matthew tells us that "narrow [is] the road that leads to life" (Mt. 7:14).
When I hit the road, when I drool over maps with their red and blue and black lines, their names of towns and cities, the landmarks, and the hints of topography, I suspect the restlessness is really symptomatic of the fact that I'm still longing for the place where I can really rest, a place where I am really Home and yet a place where there is something new around every turn. I can hear that longing when Gram Parsons sang "Hickory Wind," stuck in a hotel room, on the road, longing for the pines and oaks and hickory trees of South Carolina, longing for home: "In South Carolina there are many tall pines/ I remember the oak tree that we used to climb/ But now when I'm lonesome, I always pretend/ That I'm getting the feel of hickory wind."
The Way of Holiness? I've got the wheels dead ahead, my map laid out before me, my wife beside me, my kids in the back seat. And John, I've got it wide open. I want to see if maybe, just maybe, the wheels will leave the ground this time. It's a fearsome thing to be here. Next stop: Gladness and joy. We're laughing all the way, and in the corner of my eye, in the rear view mirror, the dim lights of Sorrow and Sighing are fading, fading. And not one single "wicked fool" to be found on this road.
I can't wait to get there. I'm going Home.