Monthly Archives: June 2014

Readings on Pilgrimage

photoThese past months many of the books I’ve opened have provided new views into pilgrimage – refining and rekindling my own vision of this type of journey. If you are looking for some ways into pilgrimage – whether a journey to a foreign land or a journey through life. Here are a few suggested readings.

In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness and Heart of Christianity, Jim Belcher

Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look,and ask for the ancient paths,where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. – Jeremiah 6:16

After finishing the narrative of this pilgrimage to articulate faith, to rest, and to build a foundation for a family, I wanted even more to head out on such a journey. Quickly I was thinking about who to invite, where we would go, the focus of the time, and more. However, the journey that Belcher lays out is not only about going to lands away from home, but into the faith lives before us today. So this is where I left this book. Exploring my own search for faith – and in the back of my mind planning the next pilgrimage.

Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, Steven Garber

This is not a head-in-the-sand, idealized view of vocation, but one of taking an honest look at the world around us – where God has placed us, with whom he has placed us, and who we are. Garber references Walker Percy’s concept of “pilgrim in the ruins.” In our lives we are on a sacred journey, but it’s not paved in gold with step-by-step directions laid out for us. Instead it’s through the reality of the brokenness of this world, including ourselves, that we find the grace of vocation.

Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life, Phileena Heuretz

“It’s a story of awakening, darkness and transformation. It’s a story of being born. It’s a story of striving to be free. As a Christian it is a story of ongoing transformation in the image of Christ.”

Phileena Heuertz’ contemplation of her sabbatical takes readers through the journey walked and the struggles and transformations that she entered along the way – through God’s grace. Don’t think you have time or need to take time for contemplation? Heuretz story shows how this seemingly quiet practice is essential, especially for those of us in the midst of an active life.

Wayfaring: Essays Pleasant and Unpleasant, Alan Jacobs

“I love the essay primarily because it is the genre par excellence of wayfaring.”  This book is an excellent example of wayfaring through writing and literature as Jacobs’ readings and musings open up new avenues of thought and adventure.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior

“I have carried this book and many, many others, all these years. And they have made me who I am.” It was wonderful to journey with Prior through her life with books – Charlotte’s Web, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Madame Bovary, and more. So many people have been made by books and all the worlds they contain. This is a great way to get to know someone, even ourselves, and to set out on a journey.

Holy is the Day, Carolyn Weber

Carolyn Weber takes readers through a journey of living in the present, not because everything was going so well that she wanted to capture the unambiguous happiness of life, but because even in the pain – which she details through several physical and emotional struggles – there is something to realize as a gift beyond ourselves. I was drawn to her story – that of an English professor in the throes of tenure, sabbatical, publishing, raising a family, and seeking to follow God. Into this story she weaves poetry and prose – Chesterton, Lewis, Donne, Coleridge, Blake, Keats, Sayers – along with scripture – Daniel, Jonah, Jesus, Peter, Paul, Mary – providing a rich context for living.

 

So pilgrimages – journeys of transformation through stories of meaning. The paths can be through literature, our vocations, life challenges and more. Above all, God’s grace guides us as we are open and aware to see the steps before us. What readings have encouraged your thoughts on pilgrimage?

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Drawn to Oxbridge

IMG_1695So, what are the stories that are drawing me to England this year?

The primary story for this journey to the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute in Oxbridge comes through his writings, especially Surprised by Joy. I desire to connect more deeply to that truth of God to which moments of joy point.

As I dig into the story of C. S. Lewis I’m drawn to this man, this academic who was passionate about the study of literature and philosophy and his path to faith. Through these loves, the means through which he saw and understood the world, he came to faith. Reading from Longfellow’s Saga of King Olaf – “I heard a voice that cried, Balder the beautiful is dead, is dead” plunges him into a moment of joy that sends him on the path of reading literature and marveling in myths. His position at Oxford put him in the path of J. R. R. Tolkien and through a mutual interest in Anglo-Saxon language and literature a friendship is born. Through this friendship and literature God draws Lewis to seek and find him. Eventually, his understanding of myth led him to see the ultimate, true myth – Jesus dying on the cross and rising again.

Moreover, Lewis’ faith journey did not end here. Once he turned this corner, Lewis committed himself fully to knowing Christ and living out this belief. He used his gifts in writing and logic to explain Christianity to a new audience. He broke from the mold of an Oxford academic and wrote apologetics and children’s novels, along with significant pieces of work within his discipline. He shared the truth he was learning through scripture through the means he knew best. In addition he practically reached out to the people around him – whether this was his family, his students, or children evacuees during WWII. This is the story of a man “living in step with the truth of the Gospel” (Galatians 2:14).

Rippling out from the story of this mere man, many other stories have followed. Subsequent readers of Lewis’ writings have found faith at Oxford and around the world. They have seen a life lived. A broken life though it may have been, God used it. The fullness of this story draws people to this place to explore what following in the steps of such a life may mean for them. Or, they see Lewis’ rational grappling with faith and start along a similar path to ground their faith. Virginia Owens shares her experience as a pilgrim following in the steps of C. S. Lewis. In Oxford, as she went along Addison’s Walk where Lewis had had a life-changing conversation with Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, she suddenly experienced a sense of “veneration” travel throughout the group she was with. Following this journey, she felt more “anchored” to Lewis and his writing through the moments she experienced.

It’s from these and many others stories connected with C. S. Lewis, Oxford, and Cambridge that I’m drawn to return. But I’m also drawn to gather with a IMG_1587group, the other participants and presenters, who also desire to live a well-lived life, with the truth of the gospel at the center. People who are seeking to live a full faith where God has placed them. Through a marvelous tapestry of talks, writing, music, dance, dining, community, thinking, and so much more this conference will help all of us be drawn deeper into God’s story.

So I’m stepping into the story of a writer engaging in pilgrimage, being transformed through the Holy Spirit in the midst of the stories I have already and will encounter. However, this isn’t just about me. I wanting to explore ways to connect people with the stories that deeply speak to them and create spaces to do this – in campus ministry, at church, with friends, and in a wider community. I don’t know what I will ultimately encounter this summer. But thinking of these stories is helping me to prepare and open up to possibilities.

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Pilgrimage Preparations

IMG17Buying tickets. Ordering clothes. Creating itineraries. It’s easy to get consumed in preparing for travel, wanting everything to be just right. As far as reading, travel guides are the way to go to provide a pathway to a perfect vacation.

But there is another way. A way of story.

In writing these words, I realize that I have not taken time to reflect on the stories that are calling me to return to England this summer. Ironically I’m currently rewriting the section of a book on literary pilgrimage that delves into the idea of sacred travel, pilgrimage, a journey to a story. After following in the steps of St. Francis in Assisi a decade ago I understood the places and stories in a way that connected with me deeply. Seeing the journey as a pilgrimage made a difference in how I interacted with the places and people along the way – and how I returned home transformed. Since then I have tried to look at most of my journeys as pilgrimages.

However, for an upcoming trip to the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute at Oxbridge, I have wandered from this way of thinking. Maybe I really haven’t strayed too far, but I have sought to control the travel and set up a well organized, but relatively safe journey. I’ve been trying to create a time that will whisk me away to an eden for a while, instead of seeing the time as opportunity to engage with stories and be transformed.

So, how am I going to move into seeing this time as pilgrimage? Since the Institute is a conference, it has a different flavor than other journeys. But there remains a story to follow. A large part of the story I’m following is that of C. S. Lewis being surprised in finding God in the midst of his search for joy and his living discipleship to Christ in response to that surprise. But I’m also drawn to romantic idea of spending time in Oxford and Cambridge, taking in the sights, lectures, and experiences. And tea, Lots of tea and scones.

IMG_1759But, primarily, I’m seeking to walk in the story of a God who calls us to follow him.

With these stories (both the serious and the fun) now in front of me, it’s time to read and reflect on them. It’s also time to pray, not only for my journey, but also for the people I will meet along the way. To pray that I’ll be open to the temporary community that will form. That I will walk over thresholds into new places. That I would see the sacred center of my time through the incarnated life of Jesus – and through the new life with which he covers his people.

As I walked through the streets of Assisi I recalled the words of the psalmist to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). A visceral, physical experience of God in the midst of life. Reflecting on that time, I am now preparing for this journey to England as a pilgrimage, being ready to experience the places and meeting people through the God who is good – though not always safe. Just as Mr. Beaver speaks of Aslan in the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.”

What stories, if any, draw you to travel this year?

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