I've spent the afternoon with two friends driving around the valleys! It wasn't 'joy riding' although there was some joy in it! It was work in fact: delivering envelopes full of literature for the clergy of Rhondda and Merthyr, up to Glynneath and back across to Ynysybwl. Being from the Rhondda it's natural to slip into being there but this was a quick ride through, from one parsonage to the next, in case the clink of the gate or the flap of the letterbox arose an invitation from within and then we would never get through the journey - and I certainly needed to get home to pack for another journey I have to make to Walsingham tomorrow. The valleys have a life of their own: it's neither rural or urban. The mountains are a constant feature, so constant in fact that when living there you can forget they're there! And it can take some time away from the place to remember how majestic and grey and harsh and lush and beautiful and dramatic they are and can be. The valleys, of course, have seen a great change and the communities of yester-year have changed and mutated into something quite different. Some would say for the better, others for the worse but that's the same everywhere. Life goes on, communities change, places move on and people remain. As we journeyed through the Rhondda I could see the slight changes that have occurred since I was last there, even a few months ago: the beginnings of a new supermarket, the new hospital beginning to take shape in the place that once housed two large factories when I was a child. The valleys journey on!
Some people who live only a few miles from the valleys have never visited them - they think, in many ways, that it's another world! I remember once, when I lived elsewhere in Cardiff, that we had the Diocesan Conference in Aberdare on a Saturday morning and my neighbour, who was travelling with someone else, knocked my door as they were leaving. I was still in my dressing gown. 'Aren't you going?' they asked. Of course, I was! But it doesn't take an hour and three quarters to get there! Yes, some people think it is another world! We misunderstand so much and are so often misunderstood. Perhaps this is something that happens even between people who live in the same place. We make assumptions about them and don't understand them because they lead a different way of life or have different values or standards. A long time ago now, I once heard a priest from Uganda talk about the differences in culture he experienced in coming to live and work in Wales. He found it amazing that people didn't talk to each other when they were making a journey on a train or a bus . 'In Uganda,' he said 'we always talk to the people we journey with.' I must admit to keeping my head down on a journey to avoid allowing someone sit next to me or disturb my journey by engaging in conversation. Joy riding, for me, would be to be left alone!
Yet we Christians are so apt at talking about our faith as a journey, though we don't always live as if that is the case and we forget about our travelling companions. It' s much easier to avoid people! Maybe we need to talk to each other a bit more! On the road to Emmaus, Jesus engaged in conversation with the people he was walking with. In fact, he actively involved himself in what they were talking about and made it his business to shorten their journey - so much so that at the end of it they begged him to stay with them. They didn't know who he was, of course. They only discovered his presence when he disappeared from their sight. Wherever we are travelling, whatever sights we see and sounds we hear, there is always the chance to see new things, and hear new sounds and meet new people and have new experiences. It may not always make sense at the time. We may not always see the worth of it all but I'm sure at some stage and in some way we will discover something special: a new kind of 'joy riding!'