I just learned a delightful new word: holloway. From the Old English hola weg. Holloways, explains Robert Macfarlane in his book Holloway, are sunken corridors that have been created by foot traffic over long periods of time—ancient troughs gouged into sandy soil or chalky rock. In England they date back to the Iron Age, in the Middle East even further.
Not engineered by human hands, holloways exist because the route worked. It was the best way to get somewhere, the original narrow paths enlarged by flocks and herds and carts. Holloways beckon like mysterious entrances to new worlds, leafy branches hovering protectively overhead, light summoning at the end of the tunnel. They are evocatively or hauntingly named: Wrinkleberry Lane, Little Covert, Normandy’s Death Valley Road, Antietam’s Bloody Lane.
Holloways remind me of church. I love the historical depth of the church and the progression embodied within its evolving traditions. When I worship at my own church in Wyoming, Ontario, I often let my mind wander to older churches I’ve visited: the very first Christian Reformed Church—Graafschap in Holland, Mich., boxy white-sided churches in Nova Scotia, awe-inspiring cathedrals in England and the Netherlands. I’m deeply comforted by an age-old lineage that meshes my footsteps with the tread of those who’ve gone before: my mother and father; my grandparents; C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien; Ralph Smith, my husband’s Puritan ancestor who fled English persecution to land in Boston in 1633; Calvin, Luther, and Augustine; Lydia and Paul; Rahab and Abraham. It’s a careworn weg, battle-scarred by our common frailty but softly luminous with the guiding truth of the Word, the sustenance of communion, and the promises of baptism.
Last night I attended a baby shower at my church, that oh-so-ordinary tradition of women gathering together to celebrate a mom and her first-born child. We had coffee and punch, played a couple of games, ate cake. The new mother opened her gifts and displayed the items to us, holding them up like badges of shared accomplishment. I took some photos, capturing one of the older women holding baby Rory with gentle ease. Her husband had had a stroke recently, but there she was, smiling, offering her support to the next generation and the one after that.
Called “the Way” from its earliest days (Acts 9:2), I’m captivated by the image of the church as an incarnational holloway, carved into this numinous world by the passing on of countless gifts like those wrapped up in our baby shower: faith, hope, love. I lift my eyes to that glow in the distance. I pilgrim on, the wisdom of Henri-Frédéric Amiel as my walking stick. Amiel, a moral philosopher whose Huguenot forebears were driven to Switzerland by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, declared: “Life is short, and we do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. So be quick to love, and make haste to be kind.”