Iona Pentecost Pilgrimage-Departure: Fire and Fear (May 8)

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The last load of laundry was finally folded and last minute pre-travel errands run.  Whispered prayers and silent repetitons of the “do not forget list” infused rain gear, woolen layers and inspirational books as they were packed tightly away in the suitcase.   Today I departed for my pilgrimage to Iona and I couldn’t be more eager to get past this stage!

The pilgrimage’s archetypal stage of departure is wrought with tension and conflict.  While our souls are desperate for this life-giving journey, our egos are inherently set against anything that would bring about such unity and peace for ourselves.  Traditionally, this struggle against Self– to get over and through the leaving threshold– is represented by two great sphinxes that stand guard and strike fear into whoever would dare bypass them.  The only weapon that can defeat the sphinx is self-assurance and the ability to see through their fear tactics. To garner the strength to acknowledge the ruse of dares and distresses they throw at the pilgrim, is to seek strength from our Sacred Source and boldly call out to these foes that they are but a distraction from our destination.

I’ve studied pilgrimage for years and yet am always surprised at how very real and strong these archetypal stages are.  The events and occurrences that lead up to the departure are absolutely hallmarked by despair, and lead one to second guess the need to go on such a soul journey.  This particular pilgrimage has been no different and the sphinx have sure been doing their dandiest to scare me away from the day’s journey; it has been a nonstop onslaught of attempts to waylay and mislead me.

Beyond the leading-up weeks of fluish fevers, car problems and financial woes, we almost had a house fire last night.  Seriously.  To commemorate my departure-and Seattle’s brilliant May weather-we decided to grill a salmon and enjoy our family’s meal outside.  I decided to leave the grill on high heat to burn off the residual fish skin following dinner…and promptly forgot about the outside oven as I packed and put the children down to bed.  Late into the night, after my husband had swept the kitchen floors and laid the shaken out kitchen rugs on top of the grill, which is inches from a bakers rack containing shoes, coats and outdoor miscellany that stands against the 100 year old wooden paneling of our home (!!!!!), I smelled burning smoke through the kitchen window I just happened to open earlier in the afternoon to get a cool spring breeze through the house.  I opened up the back door only to find the kitchen rugs in flame atop our gas grill!  Grabbing an un-torched corner, I flung the rugs to the ground and rushed around looking for water to douse the firey inferno.  The flames were inches away from our house…I still shudder to think about what would have happened if I had gone to bed at my regular bedtime, and not been awake fussing about my packing.

That incident behind me, I anxiously laughed in the faces of the sphinxes; “Oh you archetypes!  Trying to get me all afraid and what not!  Nope, I’m getting past you and continuing on with my soul journey!”

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It was time to leave for the train, which runs just a block away from our house, to get to the airport in time to catch my flight.  My husband and two of my children were home to walk me to the station.  The sidewalk to the station takes us past a nuisance property where felons, prostitutes and drug addicts are want to hang out.  Typically they are active in the wee hours of the morning and are rarely out and about during the bright sun-filled days.  However, just as we were about to make our way to the train, a handful of these unsavory household guests gathered on the sidewalk.  Their presence induces silence and fear; and as their eyes bore through my own, I desperately just wanted to turn back home and forget this whole pilgrimage affair.  Strengthened by the innocence of my children, and my bold husband, we walked past these people who had become apparitions of fear itself, daring me to be strong enough to pass by them.  With an exhale, I tightened my grip on the hands I love most and felt joy returning as we made our way quickly to the train.

However, the sphinxes weren’t through with me yet.  It appeared they wanted to throw one more thing of fear at me to see if I truly dared pass them and engage the heart of this pilgrimage journey.  We stood waiting at the street’s crosswalk-just beyond was the train station-and directly across from our little family was a man, who with one glance, made my skin crawl and move around me like a snake.  His ogling eyes didn’t ask permission as they seemed to look through my clothes, his jeering toothy smile centered on my son and his lips moved with unheard incantations.  I clutched my children, for in the urban wilderness, these are the types from which we are warmed to stay far away.  Through pursed lips, I whispered to my husband to remember to lock all our doors and stay vigilant; indeed, I was scared!  The pedestrian crossing sign changed and we embarked across the street, brushing shoulders with this man as we passed.  The snakes swarmed in my stomach, but were released as soon as we made it safely to the other side of the sidewalk.

A beacon of welcome seemed to embrace my safe passage through the threshold of departure: just feet away from me was a transit sign displaying a dove, sacred symbol for the patron saint of the Holy Isle of Iona-St. Columba, for whom this particular Seattle station was named.

Coincidence?  I think not.  Grateful for this sign of affirmation, my heart leapt past the fear and foreboding; and eagerly boarded the train for this pilgrimage journey.

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Easter: The Place of Our Resurrection

Raphael's The Transfiguration (1520)

Raphael’s The Transfiguration (1520)

This Easter evening we resurrection-believing types are likely sitting down, basking in the power of today’s symbolism, while licking the stolen-from-our-kids’-Easter-basket chocolate off our fingers and pondering what to do with all those hard boiled eggs.  Our Lenten journeys over, we are quickly back to sipping on our coffees, wine or whathaveyou’s, secretly grateful that that discipline practice is over and we can return back to ordinary life.

And here is where the ever ironic and paradoxical-pilgrimage ways of the Greatest Journey ever made continues to resound and clang, making that Lenten home-coming not as comfortable as we anticipated and certainly not what we thought it would seem.  For the journey made by Jesus through Gethsemane to Golgotha didn’t end in darkness and death.  This tormented trek didn’t return a man unchanged from his travails.  No, this most sacred of all journeys ended in transformation, restoration and resurrection!  Nothing in the universe would ever be the same again because God set out on the greatest venture ever beheld, journeying towards an end that really has only been The Beginning.

We set out on the pilgrim-path traveling towards transformation.  All bets are in that indeed, this ancient mode of sacred migration will connect us to the divine and that we will return changed.  And it most certainly does!  For no one who has ever encountered the Holy remains the same, so how can we expect to arrive home, pull up the ottoman, pop open a beer and exhale, “Whew!  Glad that is over! …Now, what’s on TV?….”  Pilgrimage just doesn’t work that way.  For you see, from the earliest recordings in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we witness a universal life force that is always on the move.  Jehovah was a pilgrim-God, always walking, always moving, always going out towards the edges of society and calling to the least of these.  Author Charles Foster in A Sacred Journey (2010, Thomas Nelson), says it fantastically, “[God traveled] in a box slung over the shoulders of refugees and worshipped in a tent.”

Pilgrimage is wandering after this nomad-loving God and seeking after a divine-kingdom whose powers are established on the periphery.  And if we take up our cross and follow Him to these places, how can we expect to return home, content to put our walking stick in the closet and our souvenirs on the mantel?  We were made to walk, hence our amazingly designed bipedal bodies.  When we sit for too long, bad things happen, there is really no denying it.  We develop physical issues that lead to chronic pain and poor health habits.  We start to engage the world through screens instead of through touch, resulting in an apathy that is hardly characteristic of Jesus’ radical pilgrimage through Palestine.  We get cozy and comfortable and no longer long for a quest that will transform and reform us.  Content, we are happy to scroll through our iPad finding hints of God’s presence there.

Understandably, our technology indeed offers new and unique ways of engaging the world, and yes, even bearing witness to testimonies of God’s presence throughout the earth.  However, there is something fundamentally changed that occurs when journeying after God outside, when the created elements are participating in the blessings and bumps that are experienced on the road.  In the Celtic tradition, peregrinatio (Latin for “pilgrimage”) takes on a special meaning as it refers to a different kind pilgrimage.  Instead of setting out to walk to a specific holy site or destination, the ancient Celtic monks would undertake a maritime excursion to find their “place of resurrection,” which is a place to which God is calling the wanderer to settle, serve and await death.  The boats used at the time were called coracles, which were small vessels made of animal skins stretched across a wooden frame and sealed with pitch.  These early Celtic saints would set off in a coracle without  oars, trusting the wind and current to guide them to arrive where they are being called to go.  They would literally cast themselves adrift to sea for the love of God, following only the direction the wind would take them.  In this ancient practice of peregrination, the natural world was a critical element to the journey.  The wind and waves interacted with and informed the wayfaring, ever obedient to the will of God.

These journeys were acts of complete trust and faith in God, and resulted in new monastic establishments, some of which would define the Celtic Christian world (Iona and Lindisfarne being great examples).  The place of resurrection was one in which absolute assurance in God would become the new normal; this certitude would become the ordinary time in which these pilgrims now lived.  And death, let’s say death to self, would come in the form of no more comfortable couches on which to recline until the next call came.  No, the cross was borne and convenience was exchanged for connection with God through creation.

Our Lenten journey need not be over.  Our Easter celebrations should not be checked off the list of this month’s activities.  Because we set out to experience grace in the pilgrimage conditions of Lent, we were changed.  And because we are changed, so will be our home-places.  These environs of patterned thoughts, behaviors and lifestyle should be affected by the grace we experienced on the road, thereby causing even these familiar modes of being to be radically impacted, so much so that home no longer looks or feels the same.  So much so that we discover that we are hoping more, living more, desiring for difference more.

Our pilgrimage didn’t end on Friday, nor does it conclude today in a dyed, candy coated frenzy.  Today, because of the Resurrection, we are lit up with our Easter-people reality!  And this awe, this grace initiates another inner prompting, to again leave behind the familiar (because indeed, it takes mere minutes for something to become familiar), to again engage the cyclical patterns of pilgrimage, and go where the Spirit now leads to continue to walk to the place of our resurrection!

Labyrinth-The Lorica as Light

13th century image of pilgrims at sea

As we journey through life, we each come to, and through, seasons of great challenge and often despair.  From the time we are children, we face the fears of monsters-real and imaginary-and the dark.  We come up against the things that cause us to cringe and curl away from our castles in the air.  And we are reminded that in many ways, we are very much like Max, the cajoling, contrary little boy in Maurice Sendak’s story Where the Wild Things Are.

In this tale, through a sequence of events that tend to happen to parents of young children between the hours of 4:00-6:00pm, our protagonist, Max, finds himself sent away to his room without supper.  That night, a forest grew up in his room, and an ocean roared by, and Max boarded a boat and “sailed off through night and day and in and out of weeks…to where the wild things are.”  These wild things “gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws,” but Max tamed and ruled over them, becoming their king.  Ultimately, it is clear to Max that it was time to return home.  He sailed back over the same vast ocean, in the same little boat, reappearing in his same childhood home…only he found that he was immeasurably changed, even as he ate his hot supper.

Our journeys will not be without trial and darkness.  What we have marked as a pilgrimage will most definitely bring us to-but always through!-turbulent oceans of fear and doubt.  Just this week, popular author and pilgrim, Phil Cousineau tweeted, “When you’re following your passion, threshold guardians will try to hold you back. Getting past them depends on how deep your passion goes.”  The image of the labyrinth is an ancient symbol for the meandering path of the soul that goes from light into darkness and emerges once again into light.  The soul emanates transformed. This darkness (the wilderness) is the heart of the pilgrimage and always involves an element of inner conflict or struggle. It is the time spent within the wilderness where you meet your fears and confront them-where you come up against whatever prevents you from hearing the voice of God or living a life of compassion and generosity.[i]

We may have not be sent to our room, but we have been sent on a soulful sojourn with the promise of sacred encounters along the way and a bounty beyond belief upon our homecoming.  But these “threshold guardians,” these wild things, will do their best to frighten and influence us away from our goal.  Young Max was wise to use power to command his fears.  As we progress through the pitchy places of our pilgrimage, we find St. Patrick’s timely prayer, The Lorica, and use it as a lantern to light our way.

Statue of St. Patrick

The Lorica is also known as St. Patrick’s “Breastplate” Prayer.  These powerful words call out to God to protect those parts of the soul and body that would be preyed upon by evil throughout the day’s ventures.  These words become likened to the necessary armor that guards, but they also provide guidance as one explores their private seas.  Inevitably darkness and dismay will descend on your journey.  It has been said that “patience, silence, trust, and faith are venerable qualities of the pilgrim, but more important is the practice of them.”  Along with these virtues, this strengthening prayer becomes the light that will illuminate the darkness and reveal that which is at your sacred center.  Godspeed!

The Lorica (St. Patrick’s ‘Breastplate’ Prayer)

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever.
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;*
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet ‘well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.



[i] Sarah York, Pilgrim Heart: The Inner Journey Home, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001),12.

Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are, (Harper Collins Publishers), Copyright 1963 by Maurice Sendak.

St. Patrick’s Breastplate  is traditionally attributed to Saint Patrick during his Irish ministry in the 5th century.

The Pilgrim’s Path: Surprise in the Similar

I’ve been walking in our neighborhood’s woods for years now.  What started out as hopeful curiosity in a forest behind our house, led me down a path towards becoming a Forest Steward- trained in local flora and fauna, urban forest restoration and community activism. I wanted a trail upon which to walk my dog; I found homeless encampments.  I wanted a place in which to refresh and recreate; I found prostitution base camps.  I wanted a place in which to be quiet and still; I found needles and sex toys.  The sacred place I wanted didn’t even seem like a possibile hope; the English Ivy and Himalayan Blackberry covered the promise of this land with its dark invasiveness.

In 2007 we commenced our commitment to hosting monthly volunteer work parties for our neighborhood.  We believed that the fear, filth and felonious behaviors could be combatted to reveal the great gift Earth is always offering us: LIFE!  In the context of these first-Saturday-of-the-month gatherings, we began the slow, inglorious effort of hand removing the ivy and blackberry.  We became master garbage collectors and bore witness to the very real social tensions of encampments being told [repeatedly] to vacate.  We became versed in our City’s shelter programs and at which pier personal affects can be collected.  We canvassed the neighborhood looking for support and interest in changing something that was into something unimaginably better.  We were committed to the long-term work of restoration and transformation.  We wanted to transform this urban soil into a sanctuary.

The work of bringing down heaven to earth is no easy task.  And it always takes time…and a lot of it.  This is the epic work of pilgrimages and journeys, deserts and dreams.  There is always such fanfare and exhilaration when one picks up the walking stick and marks, and crosses into, the beginning of the journey.  The vision of the destination is so clear, so lucid–it seems you could just reach across a short breadth of time and realize every desired detail.  But soon you find your arm is tired from being extended for so long…for so very long.  Your hand clutches that walking stick with a deepened sense of understanding that this stick is with you to uphold and offer stability when the road gets longer, instead of shorter.  For sacred destinations always require time and long processes; the meaningful meanderings are necessary to bring you to that place where you are able to see and hear with a clarity that simply doesn’t exist at the beginning.

We have hosted over 75 work parties in our 10 acre parcel of urban forest in the last six years.  We have painstakingly picked up invasive plants and planted more than 1500 trees and shrubs.  We have written for and received grants to fund an urban forest trail system to connect neighbors and neighborhoods.  I have sat in Council members chambers in City Hall sharing our story of forest transformation and restoration.  The heaven that I thought was just one-shovel full away has taking me years to begin to see.  I have leaned on that shovel-and on the arms and hearts of committed neighbors and friends-in fatigue and frustration, wanting so badly to be done and to realize the destination for which I had set out for…so very long ago.

I long for free social weekends and open evenings not requiring correspondance with local organizations. …And then I have to make the choice–the choice we all have to make on our journeys.  When we have been on the road for a bit of time, the enchantments and sparkles of roadside attractions become great.  They call for us to stop, rest and even consider them a favored substitute over the sacred destination.  We can choose this…or we can look to the “imaginative, active encounter with the place” (P. Cousineau).  At this point in the journey, we must look all the harder and request for a renewed power of vision.

I went up into the woods this week and came across a beautiful, seemingly-spontaneously-built, road side alter of rock, wood and fern at the trail head into the woods.  I was startled and stunned by its presence.  Everything about its quiet appearance shouted reminders to me of what these woods once held.  For at one time-at this very spot, I had uncovered over 200 hypodermic needles…and now there was just this free, intentional, beauty.  This organic gathering was a blessed statement of how far along the journey we had come to seeing this forest as a place of community refreshment, a place of collective comfort.  We certainly aren’t there yet–the destination is still a long way off.  But the meaning that is being collected along the whole long way is going to make this little piece of heaven one helluva place!

The Pilgrim’s Path: Seeing the Sacred

If the journey you have chosen is indeed a pilgrimage, a soulful journey, it will be rigorous.  Ancient wisdom suggests if you aren’t trembling as you approach the sacred,                     it isn’t the real thing.  The sacred, in its various guises as holy ground, art, or knowledge, evokes emotion and commotion.

– Phil Cousineau

As soon as you mark your journey as a pilgrimage, you are drawing a line in the sand transforming how you move through the world-how you see, hear and taste the world around you.  And inevitably, because of this manner of intention-and because the Powers that Be know what you’ve done (that whole line in the sand act)-there will be things that go wrong…terribly wrong.  That is simply the nature of the Pilgrim’s Path; no longer can you just simply curse at an inconvenience or change in plans.  There is Some One speaking to you now through the chaos.  There is a Force that will derail all your best laid undertakings and ideals for this journey just so you will see things anew, afresh; just so you will see the Holy, the Mystery that is present.

The purpose of the pilgrimage is to ultimately make life more meaningful.  It is regarded as the universal quest for the self.  Though the form of the path changes, one element remains the same: renewal of the soul.  The essence of the sacred way is “tracing a sacred route of tests and trials, ordeals and obstacles, to arrive at a holy place and attempt to fathom the secrets of its power.”[i]  The act of listening is emphasized here.  The way of the pilgrim is one of an inner-quiet, an inner ear tuned to the subtle sounds of the Spirit while on the sacred road.  And every road is sacred, as is every sidewalk, every aisle, every stoplight.  You have chosen to listen and to see the life that moves around and through you, no longer overlooking the beauty and the blessings that surround every minute of every day.

Once the acts of intention and attention are completed, the pilgrim is ready to cross the threshold.  The threshold is more than an architectural detail; it is a mythological image that evokes the spirit of resistance we must pass through on our journey from all we’ve known to all that is unknown.  It is the first step toward renewal.[ii]  Once on the other side, Pilgrims move from ordinary time and space into sacred time and sacred space.  In this reality, the meanings we associate with our normal everyday experiences are turned upside down.  This isn’t necessarily to over-spiritualize everything; I mean, you may really have run out of gas simply because YOU didn’t fill up the tank.  But, maybe…just maybe…you did run out of gas because that person who helped you…needed you as much as you needed them.  Or maybe that call from a friend, or the bank, or the doctor, or the school, while inevitably inconveniencing you to whatever extent, is an augury- demanding that you slow, stop and SEE the Sacred that is on the move in your life.

Every encounter, every eye contact, every handshake is now imbued with the potential and possibility for a sacred encounter–and rarely does God disappoint. The structures we use to define who we are in ordinary life become irrelevant.  Pilgrim space has no regard for class, race, or social/economic standing.  There are no more random run-ins with strangers; there are no more lucky or misfortunate moments.  In sacred travel, every experience is uncanny; every contact attests to some greater plan.  No encounter is without meaning.  There are signs everywhere, if only we learn how to read them.  Peculiar people turn into much-needed messengers.  “From now,” advised Epictetus, “practice saying to everything that appears unpleasant: ‘you are just an appearance and by no means what you appear to be.’” Use the powers of your sacred imagination, the old Roman sage is saying.  See behind the veil of things.  Listen to the message that is between every spoken word, every gust of wind.  Everything matters along the road, but what matters deeply is what is invisible and must be seen with the inner eye.[iii]

In August 2009 I, along with about 20 undergraduate students from Seattle Pacific University, were pledged to make pilgrimage to Iona, Scotland.  We had departed from SeaTac airport with ease; the sun seemed to be shining upon us and our ventures.  In fact, I rode the light rail to get to the airport and the station where I embarked, Columbia City Station, had an icon next to the station sign that, while overseen many times, I finally looked and it spoke to me: the image was that of a dove.  Columbia  City…Columbia…Columba…Colum Cille…”dove of the church”…and patron saint of Iona.  Could an omen be any clearer?  My heart was thrilled to begin this sacred journey!  However, as it has to be with pilgrimages, this ecstasy was relatively short lived.  For while we were to have but a brief layover in Philadelphia prior to our Transatlantic flight, we were stuck on the turmac for HOURS as Hurricane Bill raged all around us; lightning rods reaching from the dark sky and striking the black asphalt upon which our plane sat.  Throughout this drenching downpour, our luggage sat, open to the skies…uncovered.  When we picked up our backpacks in Glasgow, they were soaked, as were their contents.  As were my meticulous memorandas for our retreat.  Every paper of pre-planned retreat material?  Saturated. Could I have cried tears of frustration?  Sure!  But I knew that there was a message for me in those great winds and in between each of those heavy drops of rain.  I chose to laugh, and begin to listen.

Part of the importance of the road are the ones whom you happen upon along the way.  It is critical to understand that while you may be on a personal pilgrimage, that you may be doing something ever-so-unique-to-you-alone during Lent, you are surrounded by others. These friends and family, yes, even these strangers will be the harbingers of many important messages to you on your way.  You are not journeying alone.  Shoulder up to these voices, these presences, and seek their wisdom and response.  Undoubtedly they have something important to pass along your way.  They may be sent to redirect you, to provide you new instructions.  But you must first be able to extend a hand, make eye contact and then, listen.

Since last week’s writing and sharing of my Lenten intentions, there has been something being proclaimed-nay, SHOUTED-in my ears; and quite honestly, I welcome any help from you, my journey-partners, in deciphering what I’m already supposed to be seeing.  For, soon after I wrote of my love and need for the impartation of ashes, my middle son -River- became ill.  Our youngest, Anna, was quickly at his heels.  By our rice and bean dinner time, we were making home-made ash from remnants in our fire pit for our own house-ritual and rubbing troubled tummies at the same time.

The flu had landed at 2809 and was merciless.  By Friday, Orion, our eldest, was head to toe covered in hives as his body battled the virus.  By Saturday, it was evident that River had become severely dehydrated and needed to be taken to the hospital.  Anna, clung to me in her lethargy, and whimpered whenever put down.  It was as if a hurricane had hit our house and was pummeling us with all its worth.  Sunday had us over its knee in exhaustion; this was supposed to be our Feast Day and I hadn’t once worked out for 30 minutes since Lent began!  This wasn’t what I had intended for the start of my holy-journey at all!  Despite the counters laden with crackers and cures, Joel and I had continued to eat our rice and beans and, heck!  I was frustrated, tired from the unceasing vigils, and ready to feast and I had absolutely no energy to put into anything except warming up the vat of Lenten victuals in the fridge.

And then there was a knock at the door.  Our associate pastor was on our porch with prayers and Pyrex in hand: hot, home-made Beef and Broccoli in Oyster Sauce was being brought to us for dinner.  He extended us his hand, he looked into our eyes.  He blessed River and attended to Anna.  He brought care and concern from our congregation. He was a messenger. Look for the Sacred.  Listen for the Message.  Tears streamed down my face as love was ladled onto our plates.  I leaned into the strength of someone else in my kitchen, someone else standing at my sink.  I ate.  I was nourished-oh so very fed!

I am freshly struck with how we just simply cannot get by in this life on our own.  We cannot be parents, parishioners, pilgrims or priests without a community of care around us.  This network IS our guide.  These hands, these voices, these hearts, help us find our direction when the way has stormed over.  When our backpacks have become too heavy from the torrential rains of the Pilgrim’s road, we must find relief from other’s who are sharing in this journey with us.  They are here for this reason.

God has placed them on our path to provide and point the way.

———

Does the road wind uphill all the way?                                                                                     Yes, to the very end.                                                                                                                 Will the journey take the whole long day?                                                                                     From morn to night, my friend.                                                                                                 -Christina Rossetti, 1867


 [i] Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, (Boston, MA: Conari Press, 1998), 96.

[ii] Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, (Boston, MA: Conari Press, 1998), 83.

[iii] Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, (Boston, MA: Conari Press, 1998), 98.

The Call

——————–

Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.

Jeremiah 6:16                                    ——————–

Next week the season of Lent begins. For some this may cause frantic binges on all things containing caffeine, sugar and/or alcohol.  For others, this may hardly incite a passive, acknowledging nod and yet still for others, this may cause a response of libertarian piety for all those unsophisticated souls who still fast to prepare for the great feast of Easter.  In a culture whose calendars are captained by smart phones and apps, it is increasingly rare for us to be moved by a season beyond predictable greeting cards and holiday decor.  These seasons-be they spiritual, soulful or secular-have a much needed purpose in our lives; they punctuate our plain places with celebration and solidarity.  They break open our schedules and routines and bring us together; we gather in community and communion around these seasons, which testify to our lives, to our journeys and where we are headed.

Lent itself is a journey that invites us to awaken to a deep disturbance-to acknowledge that Ordinary Time has become just that-ordinary-and out of this hum-drumness emerges a question and a yearning.  There is something that calls us to look towards an end, a destination of a soulful sojourn that reengages us with Holy Ground, which spurs faith onward.  This needn’t be a time of temperance, but of transformation.  There is an invitation here to see these upcoming weeks as a pilgrimage, that something, some PLACE is calling to us, beseeching us to look deeper, GO deeper and be altered by the process.  This is a call that summons us to the hidden life, the life of the spirit.

Your life is calling you to leave home-that which is ordinary, that which has become so very normal and so very expected-this season. Your spirit needs you to heed, to really begin listening for the reason behind this journey (and lucky us, one that happens annually!).  It is time to acknowledge your surrender to the Spirit, who will “lead you into unpredictable adventures of the soul.” (Sarah York, Pilgrims Heart, 5).  It is time to pack your bags!  However, I would speculate that the ritualistic forgoing of certain foods or habits isn’t that which will heighten this experience; just like when you pack for that flight that weighs your luggage, or when you load up your backpack for a trek in the backcountry, you want to travel lightly.  Absolutely take note of that which you carry in this season right now, and you may find that to lighten your load you may want to practice simplicity in some areas.  This practice begins to awaken the ‘pilgrim mood’ in you; it summons the inner-sojourner who is readying for the road, always listening, always watching, always waiting for signs and signals from the One who is calling you.

The call of the season is upon us.  The journey pilgrimage towards engaging The Passion is nigh-this is the time to center in and listen.  Don’t be dismayed if you don’t hear anything or connect with something right away; that will cry out loud as you campaign away from convention and common places. This is a quiet time. This is a time to begin with focusing on what you love and what is difficult for you.  These will be what you carry with you as you cross the threshold and journey into Lent next week.

We set out as seekers after answers, or even peace, that we cannot find at home so believe that a change of scene may be easier than a change of heart.  But as we set out to travel the interior roads of discovery, we discover how quickly travel can turn to travail and how really, there is no forward motion unless we’ve yielded to the hard, steep, dark places.  Our annual calendar calls forth the need for a journey that will stretch us, that will bring us to our knees, that will bring us closer to the Creator of it ALL.  U2’s Bono sang the truth well when he piped, “If you want to kiss the sky, you’ve got to learn how to kneel*.”

The ancient path is calling us to come.  The road is ready.  And there is sky, and all the stars that sparkle within, that will watch over our every step and be there to greet us at our arrival.  And we will be kneeling together, and helping one another up, along the whole journey.

Where there is no way, no path, no road made plain,                                                       May there be wise ones who inspire you to see where the way could begin.                        -Jan Richardson

*”Mysterious Ways” as written by Adam Clayton, Dave Evans, Paul David Hewson, Larry Mullen, Angelique Kidjo

Other and the Future

Woodcut of a pilgrimage (c.1490)

This post initiates me into the blogosphere universe and I find that I am both excited and apprehensive.  Like that of any new journey, the excitement comes from a seat of knowing that there has been much preparation and direction to get to this point and the time has now come to cross the threshold (into the blogging world, that is).  The tension to the thrill is held by trepidation; I mean, what if these words, thoughts and stories mean nothing to all of you who inhabit these virtual landscapes?  This nagging fear of the unknown, quite honestly, slows my poised fingers as they hover over the keyboard.  There is great risk when one travels with transparency and journeys out from places of comfort.  But, I have a strong sense of solace knowing that without these steps away from what is known and familiar, that which is HOME to me will never expand and challenge me to continue to become all who I am intended to be.

And that is really quite it; that is what I have been thinking about, reading about and talking about for years: in what ways are we intentionally living (for the sake of metaphor, insert ‘journeying’) out our lives so that when the pilgrimage cycles commence and begin again, we are engaging in this dynamic cycle of calling, departure, arrival, to—ultimately—Home again. It is this sense of Home that is compelling to me.  Of course we have our structural residences, but I’m talking about the conceptual framework of this internal habitat. What is it that is so familiar and comfortable that it is like home to us? What does it look like?  Who are the neighbors?  Who lives and visits within the walls?  What meals are shared?  Who do we encounter on our Journey that is brought into the hearth of our Home and how does this simple act of hospitality create a culture of common good?

One of the ancient principals of pilgrimage was that the pilgrim was journeying on behalf of something.  Whether that was a prayer, a petition, in penitence or even traveling in place of someone who couldn’t make the trek themselves, there was an elemental understanding that the journey was taking place on account of something, or someone, far greater.  This positioned the pilgrim to travel in such a way that employed a keen eye and an astute ear; no longer were there such things as trivial events and random people.  The value of fellow pilgrims and strangers alike was considered great, so much so that every encounter was acknowledged as a source of wisdom and possible enlightenment.  The significance of ‘the Other’ was recognized as a sacred way marker and seen as a critical component to a journey well made.

So here it is, and this is the hopeful intention of Waymarkers: the blog.  Our lives are a pilgrimage.  Each of us has been called to journey thoughtfully and intentionally through our days.  We are asked to see the sacred all around us, but specifically in those other than ourselves.  What exactly does this mean?  It really is as simple as it sounds: anyone OTHER than you.  This includes those that don’t look like you, act like you, live like you, or think like you.  We are called to see them, travel with them, and yes, even live on BEHALF of them.  This process of linking Other to our self begins the transformational unfolding of Other becoming Neighbor, and ultimately, in practicing the universal command of “Love your neighbor as yourself”, becoming your self.  For when this conversion occurs, we suddenly cannot look away from the injustices and pain experienced by those other than ourselves, for it is now happening to US.  We now journey forward on behalf of a common good for ALL.

And how does the Future fit into all this?  The Future isn’t now and it certainly isn’t what was, so why concern our self with it at all?  Well, in a very real sense, the Future is Other to us. Our modern Western culture certainly has made great strides in our era, but a monumental failure was its inability to assimilate indigenous people’s capacity to see forward and understand their behaviors had long-term implications.  This ‘seven-generation sustainability’ concept has its origins with the Iroquois people. This ‘Great Law of the Iroquois’ maintained one should think seven generations ahead (a couple hundred years into the future) and decide whether the decisions and actions they made would benefit their children, and children’s children, seven generations into the future.  This is a call and a challenge that we need to heed today; this view transmutes the Future, and our ecological concerns, into today and makes it a ready companion to our every action.  It becomes our neighbor.  It becomes our self.  It becomes our HOME.

There it is folks.  These are the foundational themes to this blog.  Am I excited about thinking aloud with you all around these topics?  Absolutely!  Am I scared that I may not get it right and my own personal stories of living on behalf of Other and the Future might not be your version of virtue?  Yes.  There is that tension mentioned earlier again…but my hope supersedes this.  I pray that by inviting you into my HOME you too will help hone me. That by saddling up together on this journey of life, we will see one another and our stories as sacred.  That by living forward in ways that see the Future as important as today, we will all seek out that which is the common good for us all.  And we will get lost; one most certainly does on a trek that carries with it much treasure.  In these times of uncertainty, in these straying seasons, may we return to our God-given travel mates—Other and the Future—and ask them for guidance.  May they be our way markers that point us all towards HOME.