Tag Archives: pilgrimage

How to pray: The joys of walking

A long time ago now, I was on an overnight retreat and, to my surprise, I found myself left alone for the night, the only guest in the retreat house. Initially, this was a bit scary.

Richard Gere as King David (1985) dancing before the ark (2 Sam 6)

Praying with my body

I was reading  a book by Tilden Edwards who suggested my prayer might be better focused if I emulated King David and danced before the Lord. Even now I can remember the horror this thought aroused in me. The house was empty and I was still afraid some great “other” would see me, if I followed Edwards’ advice, and mock me, just like David’s wife had. I later learned just how deeply that mocker was installed in me and how little assistance he needed to lock me up.

But I finally could not let it go; the suggestion was not going away. My logic was something like, “You’ve already gone on retreat, which seems absurd enough to most people. What prevents you from following Edwards’ direction?” So I opened up the creaky door to my room and got out into the hall in my underwear, half expecting a nun to burst in as I tentatively took my first few steps into a body-aware prayer. I still remember how it felt to consciously let my body move up and down the hall and into the presence of Jesus along with my mind and heart. I could feel my strength being applied to expressing my praise. I slowly lost my self-consciousness and became conscious of the Holy Spirit.

But even more, I simply did something with my body. I did not just think about doing it or imagine doing it and count that as doing it. When the Ark was returned to Jerusalem, David whipped off his kingly robes and humbly expressed his praise for everyone to see. He, and the rest of us, never forgot it. The Bible writers were honest enough to include the reaction we most fear in the middle of the story. Disdain, from the outside or in, is often a hurdle we need to overcome to pray at all. David’s own wife looked down on him because he was so “out there.”

The joy of walking

I like dancing. But I rarely feel moved to make it part of my prayer. I do a lot of singing. I like to lift my arms and do other things with my hands when I worship and pray. Sometimes I dance. But I’m more of a walker. This past month I experienced some deep joy as I walked.

Sometimes a Christian client and I are doing psychotherapy together and it is difficult to imagine how they are going to break the patterns of their anxiety or depression. They think they need to think better and it just is not working. Their life and their prayer have a set pattern; nothing new can happen, but things are just not working anymore. Sometimes I suggest they take a walk and spend some time with God, maybe even talk, certainly listen, but mostly just let their body be in the Lord’s presence and see what happens. Sometimes they try it. During their stressful day, they just get up and walk around the block. Instead of dashing home, they go over to the Schuylkill and let the river help them.

When we were following Paul around Greece last year, it dawned on me again that he walked from Philippi to Thessaloniki. Most of the people in the Bible are using their own two feet to get anywhere they go. They don’t jump into the car at the last possible moment to make it to the Sunday meeting, fruitlessly dodge potholes, get undone by unexpected traffic, miss the last convenient parking spot and fastwalk into the meeting, panting for the first few minutes. They have lots of time to be slow. If I walked to my Sunday meeting it would take about an hour and a half. If I walked the route like a pilgrimage to a holy site, it might end up being a supercharged experience I never forgot. But even if I was just taking my time and using my body, I would be more likely to meet God.

walking the brick road assisi to santa maria degli angeli
Strada Mattonatta, the ancient pilgrim road

My walking experience in Assisi

This year, I was privileged to take the retreat of a lifetime in Assisi. I decided to devote my days to walking. I was a pilgrim visiting sites that were holy to me. But, more important (and in the spirit of Francis of Assisi), I was getting my feet on the ground, going slow enough to listen for birds, look for flowers and experience my whole self in God’s presence: heart, soul, mind and strength. It was wonderful. Every day I had a destination in mind. I put on my sandals and launched out on a route I’d never taken to places I had never fully explored. I do not have a “favorite” day. But I keep telling the story of walking to Porziuncola. So let me see if that inspires you to learn the joys of prayer walking.

I could see that going from my room at the top of the hill town of Assisi way down into the valley below was going to be a challenge. The dome of Santa Maria degli Angeli looms large in the valley landscape and it looks like it is far away. Later Franciscans created a huge, baroque pilgrim-processing center that dwarfs the little chapel which Francis was given as his first official rebuilding project. It is where he lived and died, and it is still the center of the Franciscan world. I was excited to get going; a prayer walk is like a small retreat, a vacation trip from normality to greater awareness.

I enjoyed the brick road I discovered had been built for just such a walk. Along the way I found a little chapel. I stopped in, as most chapel owners in Italy hope people will do — they leave the doors open. I found myself alone. As I knelt and prayed, an old song popped into my head: “See this bread, take and eat and live in me.” I sang it out loud and enjoyed the sound of it echoing in the room. When I arrived at Porziuncola, I was surprised to see a mass underway in the little chapel. As soon as I got to the door, the priest held up the wafer and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” A jolt like electricity pulsed through me and I made my way to the altar to receive the wafer. More so, I saw Jesus in the bread, in the place and in me. Being in the presence of the Lord is wonderful.

Knowing I am in God’s presence all the time is great. Putting my feet on the ground and feeling it with all my being is even better. Some people have wondered why I would be so bold as to “break the rules” and take communion as a non-Catholic. I tell them that I was acting in the spirit of Francis, who never met a rule he could not subvert and redeem. As it turns out, I also acted under the guidance of Pope Francis, who made a bold statement on his way back from Romania on June 2: “During the press conference Francis went further. As he explained on the plane, ‘there is already Christian unity,’ according to the National Catholic Reporter. ‘Let’s not wait for the theologians to come to agreement on the Eucharist.’” Mostly, I was moving where my pilgrimage had taken me.

So why don’t you take a walk with Jesus? Maybe the thought embarrasses you. I can relate to that. Maybe it will take too much time. I can understand that, too. Maybe you just don’t think of yourself as a prayer-walker kind of person and you fear what people would say and how it would feel if you became one. But what will happen if Jesus invites you to walk with him and you don’t go? In fact, life is a pilgrimage. We don’t really know where we are going. We need Jesus beside us to get anywhere at all. Acting like that is true when I pray has truly deepened my prayer.

The Advent pilgrimage — 5 things to try

This is a good day to start a pilgrimage. It is the second day of Advent, the season that begins the Christian year. An “advent” is the coming of something expected. God is coming in the person of Jesus to be God with us. God’s coming as a baby invites us to begin again, ourselves, and go through our own process of maturation until we move though death into resurrection life with Him.

I take all my vacations as a pilgrimage. If I have my head on straight, I take a trip to Rite-Aid as a pilgrimage. My definition of a pilgrimage includes welcoming the unexpected, even the unwanted as part of my journey with Jesus. A pilgrimage allows me to see God at work in all sorts of new situations that tests my capacity to trust him. I discover, again and again, that beyond my ordinary awareness God is present and leading. So I don’t take vacations anymore; I’d rather inhabit what is happening than vacate. That’s more like God becoming Emmanuel, I think.

Last week many Americans (especially if they were in elementary school) remembered the persecuted separatists from the English Church, called THE Pilgrims, who created a place for themselves in Massachusetts. The kids learned that a pilgrim is a person who goes on a long journey, often with a religious or moral purpose, often a journey to a place that is foreign to them. The Pilgrims who had the famous thanksgiving feast thought of themselves as those kind of pilgrims. Here’s some evidence: After the Mayflower arrived, the first baby born to the Pilgrims who sailed on it was a boy. His parents (William and Susannah White!) named him Peregrine – a word which applies to a person travelling from far away and also means “pilgrim.” When Governor William Bradford wrote about the group’s departure for America he said: “They knew they were pilgrims, and looked not much on those things, but lifted up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country; and quieted their spirits.”

Continue reading The Advent pilgrimage — 5 things to try

Take an Advent pilgrimage: Five suggestions from the main players in the story

smart car in germanyLast June Gwen and I were about to drive into Switzerland for the first time. Siri told me to turn a bit late. I slowed way down and a young man in his company’s Smart Car clipped the back of our Auris as he tried to zip by. He pushed us into the oncoming traffic lane. Happily, there were no cars coming or I might not be here to write this. We were shaken up – and then the German police arrived! The polizist was nice – but he spoke German!

We had one thing going for us, however. We decided a long time ago to take all our trips as pilgrimages. Our definition of a pilgrimage includes welcoming the unexpected or even the unwanted as part of our journey with Jesus. A pilgrimage allows us to see God at work in all sorts of new situations that test our capacity to trust him. We get to prove to ourselves again and again that beyond our ordinary awareness God is present and leading. So we don’t take vacations anymore; we’d rather inhabit what’s happening than vacate.

This is a good day to start a pilgrimage. It is the second day of Advent, the season that begins the Christian year. An “advent” is the coming of something expected. God is coming in the person of Jesus to be God with us. God’s coming as a baby invites us to begin again, ourselves, and go through our own process of maturation until we move though death into resurrection life with Him.

Pilgrim-Hat-e1383838921591Last week many Americans (especially if they were in elementary school) remembered the persecuted separatists from the English Church, called THE Pilgrims, who created a place for themselves in Massachusetts. A pilgrim is a person who goes on a long journey, often with a religious or moral purpose, and especially a journey to a foreign land. The Pilgrims who had the famous thanksgiving feast thought of themselves as those kind of pilgrims. Here’s evidence: After the Mayflower arrived, the first baby born to the Pilgrims who sailed on it was a boy. His parents (William and Susannah White!) named him Peregrine – a word which applies to a person travelling from far away and also means “pilgrim.” When Governor William Bradford wrote about the group’s departure for America he said: “They knew they were pilgrims, and looked not much on those things, but lifted up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country; and quieted their spirits.”

Everybody in the story of Christ’s coming is something of a pilgrim. The wise men probably come all the way from Persia looking for what their studies revealed. John the Baptist goes into the wilderness and then out to the Jordan River where people journey to meet him and repent. Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem and then to Egypt and back. The shepherds go to Bethlehem to see the Savior and then go all over the countryside to tell everyone about him. Where are you going? God has come from heaven and Jesus is taking first steps as a human and leading through death into life. Are you a similar pilgrim?

Advent is a season for beginning the journey. Some people reading are just getting to know Jesus and every step is fresh and maybe unnerving. More people reading are challenged to begin again, to not stay put, to not let the notables in the well-known “Christmas” story just pass them by.

How do we get started? We have a few weeks to figure that out. I think each of the main players in the story offers a very good example of what to do:

1) Go somewhere. The whole season will be filled with places to go that are not really spiritual places at all — take Best Buy, for instance — perhaps your office “winter holiday” party. Plan at least one event in your season that is like being a wise man searching for the Savior. Take half a day off and call it “searching for the Savior time.” Follow the star like the wise men.

2) Experience wilderness. The whole season is exquisitely designed, these days, to be absolutely fake. We even disguise trees and put them in our living rooms. But you don’t really need to travel very far from Philly before you can see actual stars. Or just sit down in the park and experience the weather. Listen to God in creation like John.

3) Fulfill an obligation. It is a common joke that the season is already so full of obligation that the cool people are all huddled in a bar avoiding it. But submitting to work as someone who must be saved rather than resenting work as someone who is too good for it is good for us. Feeling like you must care for someone else out of your own sense of honor is good. Go do what you have to do like Joseph. Go to your “Bethlehem” and you might unwittingly fulfill a prophecy!

dancing with stars ornament4) Escape. There is no doubt that this season has become a real baby killer (note ornament). It is filled with escapism that needs to be escaped. Maybe you should deliberately skip doing something that you would not do unless expected you to — like making those cookies or going to that thing in New York. Run for your life like Mary taking the baby to Egypt.

5) Go tell your story. Maybe you have no freedom to make a lot of choices or have little money to spend on interesting ways to be a pilgrim. Don’t fret. You can be on a “speaking tour” as you move through your day. Your latest experience with Jesus is worth telling. Move around your own countryside telling about the Savior that is born to everyone, Christ the Lord, just like the shepherds did.

But let’s keep moving. Advent is a pilgrimage. Your inward journey will be greatly benefited if you have outward movement that helps it. If you can manage to not get pushed around by the wacky holiday thing the world does or manage to not just resist that wacky thing, maybe you can experience what the people in the true story are experiencing.

More? Hit “Advent” in my tags for other posts

Launch on St. Brendan’s Day

When Gwen and I were on the Dingle Peninsula last summer, we did not expect a new grandson to end up with the name Brendan! It is a good name. On May 16, when we remember St. Brendan the Navigator (484-577) I would love to help launch the next generation of daring souls looking for the fullness of their life in Christ. Maybe our own family’s Brendan will be among them.

Each generation has a boatload of people who will set off into the “deep,” looking for God in all the places the Lord can be found. I don’t think it is such a coincidence that Jesus looked for fishermen to be his first disciples. The Lord found another good disciples when he met Brendan near Tralee in Ireland.  St. Brendan’s voyage was an inspiration for hundreds of years for seafaring and church planting daredevils. When Brendan got back from his journey of discovering himself in Jesus (and discovering America!) he founded several communities that added to the missionary fervor of the Celtic Church.

I want to be like him, so I ended up on pilgrimage to the place where his daring journey began…

Brendan’s Creek, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland
…and where it ended.

 

Clonfert Cathedral, where Brendan is buried

In the devotional book, Celtic Daily Prayer I have been using, there is a nice prayer in honor of Brendan. The Northumbria Community suggests we use it on this day. I offer it to you.

Lord, I will trust You,

help me to journey beyond the familiar

and into the unknown.

 

Give me faith to leave the old ways

and break fresh ground with you.

 

Christ of the mysteries, can I trust You

to be stronger than each storm in me?

 

Do I still yearn for Your glory to lighten me?

 

I will show others the care You’ve given me.

 

I will determine amidst all uncertainty

always to trust.

 

I choose to live beyond regret,

and let You recreate my life.

 

I believe You will make a way for me

and provide for me,

if only I trust You

and obey.

 

I will trust in the darkness and know

that my times are still in Your hand.

 

I will believe You for my future,

chapter by chapter, until the story is written.

 

Focus my mind and my heart upon You,

my attention always on You without alteration.

 

Strengthen me with Your blessing

and appoint to me the task.

 

Teach me to live with eternity in view.

tune my spirit to the music of heaven.

 

Feed me,

and, somehow,

make my obedience count for You.