Grace and peace to you all.
I’ve been thinking a lot about journey lately. We are, each of us, on a spiritual, physical, emotional, psychological journey in this wonderful and sacred mystery of life – a journey that, “if we’re doing it right,” ought to connect us ever more deeply with God and with the others of God’s creation who inhabit this fragile earth, our island home, with us.
We are on this journey, and the landscape around us is changing rapidly. We no longer recognize the landmarks that once guided us. Moral relativism holds sway, regardless of which end of the political spectrum we place ourselves on. Where Church was once the anchor and touchstone of social, civic, and spiritual life, we are rapidly seeing the rise of spiritual “nones” – persons who have no religious affiliation or experience. We lament that the world no longer looks the way we thought it once did, and so we orient ourselves to “the good old days” when life was rosy and just waiting to unfurl before us. In speaking to the clergy at last year’s clergy conference, the Bishop said something I thought was rather brilliant. In our scriptures, there are two models for church leadership. One is the model from Exodus, where the leader (Moses) leads people through the wilderness into the Promised Land (Book of Exodus). For many of us who grew up in the “boom” of social and spiritual life, this looks like getting back to the church as we know it, where Sunday School classrooms and Sanctuary were bursting at the seams and where everything we did happened in and revolved around the church. What we don’t realize is that the model of church we think of as “normal” was actually a blip on the radar of church history. That has never been the norm of church growth – it was an exceptional time, not necessarily in the sense of “better” (as the spiritual norm was essentially “going to church makes me a good citizen”) but in the sense of “outside the norm.” So, said the Bishop, the model that is far more intriguing in this world that has “changed” so drastically that it no longer resembles our “normal,” is that of Exile, the period after the Babylonian Empire utterly destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple and sent the Jewish people into Diaspora across the Empire. The question became “How can we sing God’s praise in the midst of a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4). In the “uncharted territory” and “in the midst of strangers” that we find ourselves, what does it mean to connect ever more deeply with God and the others of God’s beloved creation?
I fully believe that the Church can be a leader in our mission to “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (BCP, 855). But if we’re going to do that, we’re going to have to change our mindset.
Perhaps this is resonating so deeply with me because I, myself, am preparing to go on a particular spiritual, physical, emotional, psychological journey: The Camino de Santiago.
According church tradition, oral history and legend; a Christian hermit named Pelayo was led to the West coast of Spain in the year 813CE to find the grave of St. James. A church was built on the site and throughout the Middle Ages it became a major destination for Christians seeking a deeper connection with God. Thousands of people would walk this trail which became known as the “Camino De Santiago” to explore their connection with God. These pilgrims would wear a scallop shell as a way of recognizing each other and represented the fingers of an open hand and the good deeds expected of them. They would draw shells on trees and rocks to mark the way for other pilgrims. People from across Europe and from every strata of society would wear a shell and risk weather, thieves, injury, dehydration, and the many hazards of the road to make the 500-mile pilgrimage. Some went seeking forgiveness for a past sin, some went for the adventure, and some went because their priest told them to (just imagine!). There were many reasons why they chose to put themselves through such an ordeal, but ultimately it was about connecting with God.
Nearly 1,000 years later people are still hiking the Camino. In 2010 there was even film starring Martin Sheen called “The Way” about a man who decides to hike the trail. About 100,000 people from all over the world walk the Camino each year and in about 12 days I will be joining them. Starting mid-June, TJ and I will put on hiking bags and a good pair of shoes and begin a 130 mile trip that will challenge every spiritual, physical, emotional, psychological boundary we have. For us to be able to complete the journey, we’re going to have to adjust our mindset. We’re going to have to pull on our spiritual, physical, emotional, and psychological resources to power through when our legs are aching, and feet are blistered, and sleep deprivation, and the lingering question of “why am I doing this?” and… fear. Fear that I won’t be able to do it…Fear that something could happen to me on the trail…Fear that I’ll sustain an injury…
Fear. It’s a powerful demotivator. We fear what we don’t know.
Beloved, “God has not given us the spirit of fear/cowardice; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind/self-discipline” 2 Timothy 1:7. In the world rapidly changing around us, we can hold fast to doing the work God has given us to do – “to do/love justice, to do/love kindness/mercy, and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8). THAT is our anchor – not the church, not the politics, not the leadership, not the social conventions, not the fear of difference. God has given us all that we need for the journey – the Holy Spirit, gifts, each other. Practice the steps outlined in the sermon and article from a couple of weeks ago. Make them your habit. Change your mindset. Connect with God and your neighbor. Do what you can do each day that you are given. If we can shift our mindset from fear to one of adventure, we may discover that we, and the world about us, may “be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
Trust God to take care of the rest.
Faithfully in Christ,
Meditations on Journey
T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding:
“…If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying…
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
Naomi Shihab Nye, Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal:
After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.
Well -- one pauses these days.
Gate 4-A was my own gate.
I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore,
was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her.
What is her problem?
We told her the flight was going to be four hours late
and she did this.
I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti,
stani stani schway, min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?
The minute she heard any words she knew –
However poorly used
She stopped crying.
She thought our flight had been cancelled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso
for some major medical treatment the following day.
I said no, no, we're fine, you'll get there, just late
Who is picking you up? Let's call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on
the plane and would ride next to her -- Southwest.
She talked to him.
Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.
Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic
and found out of course they had ten shared friends.
Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some
Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her.
This all took up about 2 hours.
She was laughing a lot by then.
Telling about her life.
She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies --
little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts --
out of her bag –
And was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one.
It was like a Sacrament.
The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo -- we were all covered with the same powdered sugar.
And smiling. There is no better cookie.
And then the airline broke out the free beverages from
huge coolers and the two little girls for our
flight -- one African American, one Mexican American --
ran around serving us all apple juice and lemonade
and they were covered with powdered sugar too.
And I noticed my new best friend –
by now we were holding hands --
had a potted plant poking out of her bag,
some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves.
Such an old country traveling tradition.
Always carry a plant.
Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought:
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.
Not a single person in this gate -- once the crying of
confusion stopped -- has seemed apprehensive about any other person.
They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.
John O’Donohue, A Morning Offering:
I bless the night that nourished my heart
To set the ghosts of longing free
Into the flow and figure of dream
That went to harvest from the dark
Bread for the hunger no one sees.
All that is eternal in me
Welcome the wonder of this day,
The field of brightness it creates
Offering time for each thing
To arise and illuminate.
I place on the altar of dawn:
The quiet loyalty of breath,
The tent of thought where I shelter,
Wave of desire I am shore to
And all beauty drawn to the eye.
May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.
May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.
Thomas Merton, A Prayer:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
A Pilgrim's Prayer: This is an ancient prayer that comes at the end of the Pilgrim Mass said along the Camino de Santiago:
"O God, who brought your servant Abraham out of the land of the Chaldeans, protecting him in
his wanderings, who guided the Hebrew people across the desert, we ask that you watch over us,
your servants, as we walk in the love of your name to Santiago de Compostela.
Be for us our companion on the walk,
Our guide at the crossroads,
Our breath in our weariness,
Our protection in danger,
Our albergue on the Camino,
Our shade in the heat,
Our light in the darkness,
Our consolation in our discouragements,
And our strength in our intentions.
So that with your guidance we may arrive safe and sound at the end of the Road and enriched with grace and virtue we return safely to our homes filled with joy.
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Ted Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory:
Pastor Ted likens church leadership to the adventure Lewis and Clark took exploring uncharted territory. He gives 5 guidelines for the spiritual journey in a world the church is not familiar with:
- Understanding uncharted territory: The world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you: Face the disorientation of a changing world. We will face unexpected challenges.
- The on-the-map skill set: No one is going to follow you off the map unless they trust you on the map: Are we credible witnesses? Do we truly live what we claim to believe? Do we practice forgiveness, reconciliation, and love? Only when a person trusts our integrity will they be willing to follow us into new territory – this is true for evangelism as leadership.
- Leading off the map: In uncharted territory, adaptation is everything: “adaptive challenges require learning, facing loss and negotiating the gaps of our values and actions” so that we can find “innovative answers to lingering and persistent challenges.” A central practice for doing this is to “start with conviction, stay calm, stay connected, and stay the course” even when navigating loss of what we have held dear.
- Relationships and resistance: You can’t go alone but you haven’t succeeded until you’ve survived the sabotage. The necessity of relationships is also the greatest peril. People behave badly. We can isolate and withdraw, but doing so will keep us from succeeding in God’s work. Radical collaboration is necessary, friendship and partnership.
- Transformation: Everybody will be changed (especially the leader): In Christendom, we will never thrive as long as the majority-world voices around us are silenced. We can learn from those who are most at home in uncharted territory. In God’s church, no one is left behind. The whole body of Christ is going on an adventure – or at least preparing the way for God’s people to move ahead through the legacy we leave behind.
The Servant Song
- Won’t you let me be your servant.
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace
To let you be my servant, too.
- We are pilgrims on a journey.
We are travelers on the road.
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.
- I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the night time of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you;
Speak the peace you long to hear.
- I will weep when you are weeping.
When you laugh, I'll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we've seen this journey through.
- When we sing to God in heaven,
We shall find such harmony
Born of all we've known together
Of Christ's love and agony.
- Won’t you let me be your servant.
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace
To let you be my servant, too.