| Sep 23, 2016 07:31 am
What makes something a pilgrimage and not just a trip? This is a question we’ll begin answering at our J2A Parent/Youth Meeting this Sunday as our 9th and 10th Graders start planning their pilgrimage to Iceland next summer. How might you go about an answer?
If it’s a pilgrimage, there’s a specific destination in mind. We may discover that what happens along the way is at least as important as what happens when we get there, but fundamentally – a pilgrimage is not aimless wandering. We know where we ultimately want to go, even if we don’t know yet what it will mean for us when we arrive.
We choose our destinations for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, as with Jerusalem or Lourdes or Canterbury, our faith traditions choose them for us. We go to places where generations of believers have gone before us and find strength in their witness. We go to experience our membership in the communion of saints on this side of eternity by walking where they walked and praying where they prayed. Other times, as I’m suspecting is the case with our teens’ decision to go to Iceland, it’s less about walking well-worn paths and more about experiencing the wildness of God in nature instead.
That speaks to another aspect of pilgrimage. There’s usually an inner journey as well as an outer one. In the Christian tradition, we go on pilgrimage to come closer to God – as well as to others and our own deepest selves. We want to live closer to the Source of all truth and goodness and beauty, and pilgrimage is one way to do that. All of God may be everywhere, but the distance seems thinner in certain places. We train our spirits to sense God in these thin places so we have the awareness and tools to keep following when the paths are harder to trace.
In Sunday School, we tell our kids that a feast is not about how much we eat, but who we’re with and the spirit of thankfulness we bring to it. A pilgrimage is similar, in that our traveling companions matter a great deal – as does the spirit we bring. We bring a sense of expectation, that we’ll somehow find more than what we’re looking for, and a sense of gratitude – that anything we experience (even, and maybe especially, what feels like a detour) may be an occasion of God’s grace.
Psalm 84:5 (NIV) says: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” The literal translation for the last part of this verse is “in whose heart are the highways.” There is spiritual value in taking our faith lives on the road sometimes. We can experience God here at home, certainly. But sometimes we need to leave home to see more clearly and trust more deeply in what is already here.
This is way too big a topic to cover in one post. I’m hoping this is just the beginning of a conversation. I would love to hear back from you. What pilgrimages have meant the most to you, and why? Which highways are in your heart? What wisdom would you like to share with our young people as they set their hearts on pilgrimage?
|Aug 27, 2016 08:00 am
I am not an artist. Or so I’ve always told myself. I can’t draw a circle freehand. When asked to draw my family, I can’t improve upon stick figures. I can barely cut in a straight line. Wherever the line is between artist and inept amateur, I know clearly on which side I fall.
Not long ago in a staff meeting, we were introducing ourselves to our new colleague, Justin. Someone mentioned Jim’s artistic abilities – the wonders he can work with paint or wood or metal. Before long, people started volunteering their artistic sides – the music they create, the ways they quietly contribute to the beauty to the world, the things they do inside or outside of work that make the world that much lovelier for their presence. Once again, I was awed at the company I find myself keeping these days.
At first, I felt at a loss. Does a certain facility with words count as art? I tell stories, sure, but they’re usually not ones I make up on my own. I retell the biblical stories we’ve been sharing with each other for millennia. Does that count as art? Besides, words are ephemeral – especially spoken ones. They float briefly, and God knows where they land. What tangible things do I make that contribute to the beauty of the world?
And then, I thought about cooking. No matter the quality the product or how long it lasts, there’s no doubt that I’ve created something tangible. I can see it. I can taste it. I try to use the best ingredients I can find and afford, and I’m grateful for every hand that makes my meal possible. I work on improving my technique. Cooking is something I’ve grown to enjoy now that I’ve stopped comparing myself to anyone else. It’s an act done with gratitude and love, if not always skill. Could that count as art?
In an essay called “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” Wendell Berry talks about what constitutes “art.” He defines art as “all the ways by which humans make the things they need.” He continues:
“If we understand that no artist – no maker – can work except by reworking the works of Creation, then we see that by our work we reveal what we think of the works of God. How we take our lives from this world, how we work, what work we do, how well we use the materials we use, and what we do with them after we have used them – all these are questions of the highest and gravest religious significance. In answering them, we practice – or do not practice – our religion.”
By that light, we are all artists of one form or another. The issue is how well we use the gifts we’ve been given. I might not be a visual artist; I might have to labor to sing on-key. But my status as an artist isn’t dependent on the gifts I don’t have – but on what I make with what I do have and the love and gratitude I bring to them. If we trust the raw material God gives us, and if we seek to make something of value to our fellow creatures and bring glory to God with our efforts, then we are contributing to the beauty of the world. We are making the world lovelier for our presence.
I never thought this prayer for church musicians and artists applied to me, but perhaps it somehow fits for all of us:
O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty, and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 819)
|Aug 19, 2016 07:04 am
Recently I attended the wedding of a couple that I had not previously met. My companion had been asked by her friend the bride-to-be to take photographs of the two-day event which included attending a meet and greet for the bride and groom’s families the day before the ceremony. I suppose that my vocation has prepared me for events like these as this certainly wasn’t going to be the first time that I’ve found myself at intimate familial gatherings such as weddings and funerals where I’m meeting people for the first and most likely the last time. We had a delightful time and I will not soon forget the names and faces of many: Linda and Andrew who were the bride and groom. Matthew the groom’s brother from Arizona and his lovely wife Rabina. Barbara the groom’s sister and Chris her husband and their sons Tyler and Patrick from Philadelphia and Colorado.We met David on day two. He came to the reception alone and a little late – dinner had already been served. We were seated at a table with one empty seat and after asking if he could join us David, a stranger, surprisingly called my companion by her first name and then looked at me and said, “And I hear you’re an Episcopal priest?” As it turned out David was the spiritual director of the groom who is a lay hospital chaplain. David was most certainly a wise man – the kind of guy whose calm and friendly demeanor combined with the deep lines on his face tell you that he had lived to see much in this life – and that like that wonderful poem by Naomi Shihab Nye – kindness was now his calling. We engaged in a delightful conversation about many things: our faith, our journeys, children, our work. As we departed David, whom by then we had known for the sum total of about one hour, looked at us and said, “Have a good life.” The words struck a deep chord in us because we knew he meant them.
Later that day with her own wisdom my companion pondered David’s farewell and the fact that often the words “Have a good life” are uttered in a manner that is anything but kind. How true. I’ve used them that way myself and want to rewind the clock, wipe those utterances from my record, re-issue them in a manner that is anything but unkind, and mean it. Thank you friend. Thank you David.
Written by Linda Lentz, August3, 2016.