A few years back there was an American travel book called Blue Highways. The title referred to American maps on which the smaller roads are printed in blue, while the major arteries, the Interstate System, are printed in red. The book was about a trip across America on the “blue” highways. It was almost time-travel since America prior to the 1960’s was largely without an Interstate system. Blue highways are the land of my childhood.
My wife and I, along with my son and his wife, took a “blue highway” adventure this afternoon, traveling some backroads onto the Cumberland Plateau and spending time at “Great Falls,” one of the many waterfalls along the rivers in that part of Tennessee. The trip was accompanied by a picnic worthy of the 1950’s.
As we traveled back home we continued the blue highway route and enjoyed the scenes of back-road Tennessee life on a Sunday afternoon.
I suspect that our modern age (particularly in America) is an “Interstate” experience. Speed and efficiency are hallmarks of the work place. Commuting by car (as many do) is generally an experience bereft of sight-seeing. We go from place to place and from task to task, spending great portions of our time in something other than full human mode.
I cannot speak for the rest of the world – or all of America. I can only reflect on suburban life as I know it. I have traveled across England’s version of “blue highways” and was stunned by the beauty of its rural character. I have also traveled in the Holy Land and can only say that large portions of that land continue as desert – probably unchanged for centuries.
I believe there is such a thing as a “human” pace to life – a way of living that is rightly suited to who we are. The myth of the malleability of the human has created undreamt of forms of misery – from mechanized boredom to the insanity of “multi-tasking.”
Prayer, when rightly attended to, is a “blue highway” experience. There is a reason for the length and pace of the traditional Orthodox service. It is a cultural memory of the speed proper to human beings and the attention properly given to God. Modernized services whose agenda is to hold the attention of “worshippers” with the pace of a television show, are not being “culturally relevant,” but culturally destructive – just as certain aspects of our culture deform our humanity and seek to make us into something we are not intended to be.
I am not anti-modern in the sense of being opposed to machines or automobiles or the like. But I am opposed to things that push us in the direction losing our proper humanity. God did not create us for efficiency – nor is His likeness to be revealed in productivity. Speed of travel is meaningless when we are going nowhere. May God grant our daily lives more “blue highways,” and the good sense to take our time when we are there.