I do my best thinking on two-hour solitary road trips. Anything less than that doesn’t give me enough time to truly sink into the ideas, conundrums or questions puddling in my mind. Anything more and I begin to feel mired in my own perspectives.
But two hours alone on a stretch of uncongested highway is a gift.
Exploring back roads just to see where they might take me has long been a geographical hobby. When I worked as a newspaper reporter in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, I spent many a Sunday afternoon poking the nose of my Toyota down country roads just to see what I might find around the next bend.
As legend had it, Pictou County had more roads than any other county in the province. Whether that was true or not, I never ran out of possibilities to assuage my wanderlust. I did, however, sometimes end up on roads I wish I’d never taken. There is no joy when asphalt disintegrates into mud and your car begins to slide toward the only house in sight, its fences plastered with no trespassing signs.
I never really realized the metaphysical importance of driving until I directed Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship’s campus ministry in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. I spent a lot of time in my car in those years because it took two to three hours to get just about anywhere I needed to be to visit colleagues and students.
But I loved those journeys. By the time I arrived at my destination I’d often worked out a tangled problem, written my weekly newspaper column in my head, or landed on a creative idea for a retreat or meeting I was expected to lead.
Since moving to Toronto I drive shorter distances and almost always on congested highways. Work is a 35-minute commute, or longer depending on how many other drivers are competing for space on a particular day. There are too many things going on outside the car for me to concentrate on what’s going on inside my head. And so I simply drive and check my mirrors.
But this past Thursday, a work assignment took me out of the city to an Inter-Varsity Camp. Ontario Pioneer is about a two and a half-hour drive north of Toronto and I chose the slower route up Highway 27 rather than hurtling along the freeway with thousands of other cars.
I began the morning with CBC radio, actively listening to an interview about whether we should let our desires rule our lives, or whether other things, like commitment and discipline might be worthier choices. I channelled silent questions to the radio interviewer willing her to dig out what I wanted her guests to answer– is a life ruled by desire more likely to cause pain to oneself and others? And if so, is that really OK? She never caught my drift and my question went unanswered.
When CBC ran out of interesting fuel for my drive, I switched it off and began listening to Steve Bell’s Devotion CD. I can drive in silence, my own thoughts keeping me alert, but I felt I needed meditative music on this day because I wanted to revisit a significant conversation I’d had with a friend. I knew I needed to figure out if I could put it to rest or if there was more for us to talk about.
As I pondered, Gord Johnson’s song, Almighty God, circled around me; Steve Bell’s voice and guitar quietly, guided my thoughts:
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open
All desires known, no secrets are hidden
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit
That we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name
A two-hour solitary drive gives me time and space for honest thinking. Sometimes I’m interrupting my own thoughts to pray, asking God for clarity, or just to bless someone I’ve been thinking about.
Mostly, I have a deep sense that my thinking is wrapped in the generous energy of the Holy Spirit, who either steers me in a new direction or peacefully confirms the route I’m on will take me where I’m supposed to go.