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On August 17, 1805 Merriweather Lewis, William Clark and the Corps of Discovery were in a desperate situation. They were low on supplies. Their long-boats would be of no use in crossing the Rocky Mountains that loomed menacingly ahead of them. They needed horses. They were hoping the Shoshone would be able to supply their needs at a price they could afford. They had a measure of confidence that the negotiations would go well because a member of their group was a Shoshone woman, Sacagawea. She had been taken by the Minnetarees as a young girl, and had been sold along with another Shoshone girl to a French trapper named Charbonneau. He purchased both girls as brides. Lewis and Clark met Charbonneau during the winter they spent among the Mandans, and hired him as an interpreter. He was worthless to them, but the younger of his two wives, Sacagawea, proved to be indispensable. This was never more evident than the day when Lewis and Clark sat down with the Shoshone chief, Cameawaite, to bargain for horses and supplies.
After a long series of formalities, Sacagawea was called for. She came in, eyes downcast, and sat in the circle. When she raised her face and saw the chief she leapt up, ran across the circle, threw her blanket over his head and wept. Chief Cameawaite was her brother, the only surviving member of her family. The reunion was one of the great coincidences of American history, and one that favored the Corps of Discovery, for the Shoshones was more than generous to them.
The sweet, beautiful irony of all this is that while Lewis and Clark and their Corps were on a journey of discovery Sacagawea was on a journey home.
We stopped believing that the human race is on a sure and upward trajectory long ago. Some are sure that global warming and the rise of super-viruses have put us on a sure path of extinction. But we still put a great deal of faith in technological advancement. Faced with a threat like the Ebola Virus outbreak, our response is to turn to science and research and expect a cure. Most still have faith that with enough resources our abilities will be sufficient to conquer any threat. Many believe that technological advancement will cure spiritual malaise as well, why else line up for days to get the newest IPhone?
Whether the future for which we are headed is utopian or dystopian, most of us believe that humanity itself represents a Corps of Discovery.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, the writer sees humanity on a circular path, where historical seasons are like meteorological ones – they come, and go, and come again (Ecclesiastes 3.1ff). In fact, the path humanity is on is more like a rut we cannot escape. From his perspective, God has made us aware of eternity, of something beyond, but keeps it out of reach as we are tethered to time and space and this planet (Ecclesiastes 3.11).
We Christians know that the journey we are on is a journey home – that like Sacagawea we are headed for a reunion with our brother who is also a king.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.
We inhabit the same planet as it spins clockwise on its axis, and makes its ellipses around the sun but we Christians are on a different journey from others (Matthew 7.13-14). Some believe they are headed for new discovery, some that they are headed for fresh disasters, some that we are headed back towards the starting gate. We Christians know that we are headed home.