mountains.jpgSunday night in Roanoke, Virginia. I’m leaving the Hotel Roanoke to cross the street for a reception for my continuing education administrators’ conference. Dozens and dozens of fellow conference goers were crossing the street at the same time. We looked forward to a live string quartet playing spry classical music, to fancy h’ors d’oerves (or however you spell “orderves”), and to a good time meeting and re-meeting folks we had never met as well as others whom we hadn’t seen since a year ago.

I’d been up since 3:30 a.m. Louisiana time, so I wasn’t in the best humor. But as I crossed the street, here came those bells, chiming from a church building across the way, a familiar air: I paused to listen.

Yep, sure enough, one of those cozy tunes from the past: “The Way of the Cross Leads Home.” We haven’t sung that one in church in quite a while. In fact, I haven’t heard the melody or contemplated the lyrics in years. But the familiarity and the charm all came back right away.

I changed direction to walk toward the bell tower half a block away from which emanated the tune. Some of my fellow conferenciers cried out, “You’re going the wrong way,” as if they thought I was lost.

But I corrected them: “No, I want to hear this hymn.” They moved on toward the reception, and I tarried to indulge myself in the softness of the moment.jessie-pounds.jpg

As hymn lyrics go, to tell the truth, Jessie Pounds’ lyrics for “The Way of the Cross Leads Home” may not be the grandest poetry in hymnody. But at the same time, it’s hardly bad poetry, as poetry goes.

But this evening, it wasn’t so much abour “great” poetry. The context made all the difference.

First, this was a Sunday, and I had missed my usual church service to catch a 6:00 a.m. flight, so something was already missing from one of the most fixed routines in my life; and in addition, the mingled images of “cross” and “home” borne on the sentimental air of the chimes, falling on the ears of this sleep-deprived, half-homesick wayfarer 800 miles from home, called out like exotic sirens, drawing me nearer to the cross, nearer to home, nearer to rest.

After a moment, curious, I walked into the middle of the streefbcroanoke.jpgt in the fading daylight to read the name of the church whose chimes I heard: “First Baptist Church” appeared on the sign on the front lawn. I want those folks at FBC-Roanoke to know their bells blessed a pilgrim’s heart.