While I’m redecorating my home as a pilgrimage way station, I find myself in a comfortable and familiar role – leading the planning and execution of a project at my own pace and in my own way. For now a lot of this work, especially the design, has been a solo endeavor with some great co-laborers to bring the larger projects to fruition.
As the bookcases are filled with books, I sit in this space and imagine the people who will fill the chairs and sofas. I want friends and family to gather for meals, conversations, and creative endeavors. I see much laughter and inspiration as dreams come to fruition in this place. It’s an idealized picture without any problems.
Yet, I know that if real relationships are to flourish, there will be difficult times. Conflicts that erupt in small group meetings over biblical interpretation or understanding of the world. Meals that don’t turn out. People that don’t show up. Misunderstandings over family priorities. Opening my house means opening my life and being vulnerable. With this realization, slowly the ideal pictures fade and fear takes over. In this fear I could easily sink into my safe solitariness and defend it by claiming the need to restore my energy as an introvert.
In journeys of pilgrimage, people come together in places of vulnerability. As we seek to get closer to the deep story that is drawing us on a life journey, the false ones must be stripped away if we are to go any further. Just as Aslan tore the dragon skin from Eustace Scrub in C. S. Lewis’ novel, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we must allow God and the community around us to remove that which is keeping us from a full life.
Now that I’m in the midst of creating a new space, I wonder how to develop not only an environment that is welcoming, but also a character that is open to stripping away the comfortable fear and the pride that keep people at a distance? I won’t be able to control the individuals who enter this place as I do the redecoration – not unless I want to destroy relationships. Though I may not always be comfortable with it, I know that other travelers are an essential part of the journey – and not only in pilgrimage, but also in the life of a Christian. From the beginning, God knew it was not good that Adam was alone. Furthermore, as part of God’s new covenant, we are even called the Body of Christ, together.
In this time of redesigning not only my basement, but also my life, I’ve stumbled upon the second novel by Sharon Garlough Brown, Two Steps Forward: A Story of Persevering in Hope. The continuation of the story started in Sensible Shoes finds four women, Meg, Hannah, Mara, and Charissa, moving through the crises in their lives as they seek to be more attentive to God through spiritual disciplines and in community. Practicing these disciplines isn’t a secret key to resolve all their family, career, and relationship issues. Neither are these disciplines easy or the community in which they find themselves always comforting.
Yet, in the midst of the messiness of their lives, I felt each woman’s struggle to hold on to hope – not hope in the world, but in Christ. This hope allows each of them to loosen the grip on the false stories in which they have been living. In broken lives, with humble postures, and through faithful community with God and one another, their lives are reborn in the midst of struggle. This is the type of life I long for myself and others to know.
In this story I see possibilities for community. Images of real people practicing prayer, stepping forward in pain, and caring for one another. In short, they are sharing life together.
It’s soon time to think about making invitations to the first group of fellow pilgrims to this way station. What will we do? How will we gather? I want to fill this space with more than a picture-perfect version of community. Maybe we could even begin with this novel as we find a new way together.