Day Two: Kettleman City, CA

By Tom Ehrich

KETTLEMAN CITY, CA -- Day Two starts a bit strangely -- as a city dweller might define "strange."

Hardly any Internet access. No clear idea where I am except for a dot on a map. Old-time motel with rooms opening directly to the outside. A Denny's that was mostly empty at the dinner hour yesterday but is filling up for breakfast -- working men and women on their way to clocking in, wearing Western boots and hats, older folks ordering hefty breakfasts, the ones left when young dreamers head north on I-5 to Silicon Valley.

This is just what I wanted! Being disoriented is part of what this pilgrimage is about.

I now know from a Bing search that Kettleman City is on the western edge of the San Joaquin Valley and is halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles on I-5. Hence three motels in a region devoid of lodgings. It began as a sheep-grazing locale in the 1860s, became a short-lived oilfield wonder in the 1930s, and now serves as a site for storing hazardous waste.

Today's big choice will come when I reach Bakersfield, do homage to Merle Haggard, and decide whether to go straight and then north in order to drive across Death Valley, or keep heading east on Rte 58 across the Mojave Desert. I am thinking the latter, heading toward Barstow and crossing into Arizona just below the southern tip of Nevada.

My focus today will be on attaining focus. Yesterday was a scattered day as I freshened my driving persona after years of Manhattan walking, dealt with uncertainties about routing, did a poor job of taking photographs, and had to drive farther than desired in order to find a motel. Today, it's focus.

Faith has many elements of serendipity and spontaneity. But faith also requires focus if I am to notice the unexpected. Not focus in the sense of control or applying blinders. Rather the focus a poet might feel walking in the woods, trying to notice everything worth noticing. Not zoning out, but allowing the senses to bristle. Not killing time, but treasuring each turn in the road, seeing each crossroads, each town, each city as a place to pay attention.

I am reminded of a family trip in 1992, when I was writing daily reflections for "Forward Day by Day." I chose the theme "on a journey." Each day I used the events of family travel, truck stops, a college reunion, visiting familiar and unfamiliar places to draw meaning from Scripture. That quarterly issue of Forward evoked a huge response from readers and led me to write daily meditations continuing the "on a journey" motif. Twenty-two years later, I am still writing those daily postings.

What I discovered then has informed my ministry, writing and Christian identity ever since. In fact, it probably ruined me for parish ministry, at least as I knew it. For I discovered that the stuff of daily life is the stuff of God. The God of sanctuary, worship and church life isn't big enough or challenging enough.

This pilgrimage on wheels is the latest expression of the freedom I began to feel in 1992. Its purpose is to discover the "more" of God, the threatening, the present, the demanding.