As someone who enjoys learning new verbiage, recently (and much to my joy) I discovered the fabulous word, coddiwomple, which is a verb that means: “to travel in a purposeful manner towards an as-yet-unknown destination.” In truth, it sounds like the kind of word which has its origins in mythical Middle Earth. Personally, it rolls off my tongue and makes the corners of my mouth curl into just a hint of a smile. Say it with me … Coddiwomple. Further, it’s a word that reminds me of a former resident of Oxford, England (J.R.R. Tolkien) who famously noted that, “Not all those who wander are lost.”
Now “to travel in a purposeful manner towards an as-yet-unknown destination” sounds like some of the individuals and groups whose stories are shared in scripture. Abram and Sarai come to mind as an example. This childless couple left their settled and successful lives in the Fertile Crescent and took up residence in Haran. (Think western Turkey) Haran was interestingly the name of Abram’s brother, father of his nephew, Lot. Their father, Terah, moved the entire clan to the north after the son’s death and into a prominent Accadian city which took on his name: Haran. In the ancient language of that region the word meant, “parched” or “a road.” Abram’s father settled in Haran, making it a destination. But somehow God convinced Abram that it wasn’t a destination at all, but a road … a way to a promise.
So, there came a day when Abram (Abraham) and his entourage left Haran, heading south, and eventually passing through the city gates of Dan, (near the base of Mt Hermon). There they entered into a promised land. In many ways, they traveled toward a vague destination. In other words, Abraham and Sarah coddiwompled. They journeyed away from the known, the settled, the safe with only an extravagant promise; a pledge from God that they would one day have more descendants than the stars in the night sky. That’s quite a promise to be made to a ninety-nine-year-old fatherless wanderer and his ninety-year-old childless wife. This is how Genesis 17:3-8 frames it:
“Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.’” ~Genesis 17:3-8
Eugene Peterson reminds us of another word found in the New Testament, a Greek word: Parepidemos (pilgrim, sojourner, stranger in a strange land). It’s a word that declares that the followers of God have a destiny and a destination. It is a metaphor with reference to heaven as the native country, one who sojourns on earth (a resident alien) in particular “going to God.”
Abraham and Sarah chose to believe a promise. They believed it was a promise from the Creator of the universe, and so they traveled in a purposeful manner towards an as-yet-unknown destination. Jesus sojourned among us, a stranger in a strange land. He came from God as a living promise and invites us to join him in a purposeful journey to God. Before Jesus appeared (a stranger in a strange land) the destination seemed a bit vague. But, in his coming among us, the Way has become clear. As Saint Catherine of Sienna once testified: “All the way to heaven is heaven because Jesus said, ‘I am The Way!’”
In Jesus, not all who coddiwomple are lost. We claim that our destination is not just a place, but a relationship with the Living God, made known to us.
Blessings and Peace!