Posts Tagged With: story

Pilgrim Desire

Sitting here in the middle of April with rain coming down, I long for a journey.  A trek to a place of sun and adventure. Or, maybe a wind swept moor.  It’s time for a pilgrimage, as Chaucer and his fellow pilgrims knew full well.  Time to travel towards a sacred story.  Time to get away in order better to live the story back at home.

Where would you go?  What story would you follow?


When April with his showers sweet with fruit

The drought of March has pierced unto the root

And bathed each vein with liquor that has power

To generate therein and sire the flower;

When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,

Quickened again, in every holt and heath,

The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun

Into the Ram one half his course has run,

And many little birds make melody

That sleep through all the night with open eye

(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)-

Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage, . . .

Canterbury Tales Prologue, Geoffrey Chaucer

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Are you a Pilgrim or Tourist this Holy Week?

Are you on a pilgrim path?

What’s the difference between a pilgrim and a tourist?   For a time I struggled with exploring this difference.  Innately I knew that when I was exploring the Canterbury Cathedral in England – visiting Thomas Becket’s murder site, walking up to the altar, and even lighting candles – I was a tourist.  However, only days later, when I stepped out of a bus onto the streets of Haworth, the home of Emily, Charlotte, and Anne Bronte, I knew that I was on a pilgrimage.  I had very different relationships to the stories that drew me to both places.  One was to gain knowledge and the other to encounter the place of a well-loved novel.  On a pilgrimage, a significant, personal connection to the place and its related stories motivates the travel.  In contrast, the intention of tourists to see the sites as other and outside of themselves often keeps the journey on a recreational level.

This difference has something to say about the way we travel, but also the way we live our faith.  In the book, The Way of the Lord: Christian Pilgrimage Today N. T. Wright speaks directly to this idea.  While leading a group through the Holy Land, he reflects on how the stories, theology and place merge to bring faith to life.  The essence of pilgrimage especially comes to the forefront upon entering Jerusalem.

As Jesus heads to Jerusalem – and we follow in his steps whether in Jerusalem walking the via dolorosa, in church as we participate in worship services, in our homes reading the Bible, or in the community serving others – this is not a simple journey to revel in the upcoming passover holiday and see some sites along the way.  It was and is a journey into the very midst of God.  Wright explores how the “The road to Jerusalem stands for the deeply inviting, yet deeply threatening, journey into the presence of the one true God, where all is known and all is unknown, where all is asked and all is promised” (64).  This pathway requires listening, sacrifice, time, questions, and trust on the part of the pilgrim as we enter the story.  It’s possible to stand afar and watch as a tourist, but if you’re truly on the journey, you’re in the midst of the mess interacting with the reality of the people and situations along the way.

As Jesus’ journey continues to the garden of Gethsemane the story becomes more intense.  Jesus does not skip over this place of profound suffering.  He could have gone to another location, kept walking out of Jerusalem, knowing he was pursued.  He could have changed his teaching to be more in line with what people wanted.  He could have even called down legions of angels to fight.  Instead he stayed, prayed, sweated.  He remained with God in the pain of suffering.  This is pilgrimage.  Meeting the difficulties of the place and story head on.  Can we do any less?

So what does this mean for our walk today.  Those of us who have not been to the Holy Land are still on a journey of following Jesus.  As we become more enmeshed in God’s story, we go to the places that are uncomfortable, ask the questions of which we don’t know the answers or know we won’t like the answers, and seek God deeply.  Following Jesus’ path from his final meal with the disciples, to the garden and eventually the cross and tomb, where do you find yourself?  Are you a pilgrim or a tourist on this Holy Week journey?

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This Isn’t the Story I Signed Up For

Over the past decade I was supposed to be setting up a new life – landing an academic job after finishing a Ph.D., moving to a new apartment or condo, enlarging my network of friends, and trying new endeavors – all encouraged by my greatest supporters, my parents.  I could step out knowing they would always be there to keep pushing me or to hold me when needed.  I could picture – and almost touch and taste this life.

However, instead of striking out into new lands, over the past seven years I have been sitting in hospital waiting rooms four times waiting to hear the outcomes of major surgeries, hearing the diagnosis of cancer for both parents, and watching my father die.  I would be no where else but with my mom and dad through their unexpected health struggles.  However, this is not the story I had imagined.

Listening to friends and students, I know I am not alone in feeling that something majorly wrong happened to my story.  Whether our plans are to get a specific job, marry that one person, or move to a dreamed of location – these certainties often disappear and we’re left with questions.  What do we do now?  How do we change our narrative – especially when our identity has been so caught up in our prior plans?

Holding onto these imagined stories, no matter how good, often inhibits the possibility of fully living into the story before us.  As with most people, the stories I’ve created about my future have been exciting and good.  They have led me to where I am now, even if the final images don’t match.  But they have also encouraged me to ignore or just try to get through the scenes that I don’t like.  If I can just get through this next surgery then my mom will be healthy and we can get on with life.  If I can just stand and smile for thirty minutes at a social event, I’ll be able to leave and get to the activity I really want to do.  Any possibility of interacting with people during these other times is ignored so that I can keep on track with the narrative I’m writing.

Looking back at these missed opportunities, I’m beginning to more fully accept that I should look at my story as more than a narrow path along a plot line.  It takes place in the interaction of the characters in their surroundings.  It’s a movement, not a well wrought narrative with a tidy ending.  What if the story ahead doesn’t have the trappings of that happy ending, but a relationship with the one who is good – God – and with other people along the life journey?  What if I live into the story before me instead of constantly rewriting a safe one?  Now that would be a story to sign up for.

Categories: Journey Living | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment


Mississippi River

Lately I’ve been following Mark Twain down the river in the book Life on the Mississippi.  So far it’s not so much an adventure as a lesson in riverboat piloting, though Twain does introduce some great characters along the way.  I am struck by his comment that once a pilot learns every inch of the river – the placement of the bends, the height of the banks, the location of plantations – and how they will change as the course and flow of the river moves, he loses sight of the river’s glories: “All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river!” (95).  As a steamboat pilot in training, Twain’s place of dreams had become his office.  A note of sadness echoes through his words.

Even so, through his increased knowledge, Twain was able to relate his experience to his readers more fully and in a way that takes us with him on the journey, not merely paints a general image of the beauty he sees.  With this knowledge he tells of  “the alluvial banks [that] cave and change constantly, whose snags are always hunting up new quarters, whose sand-bars are never at rest” (97).    This path from pursuing a dream to learning the usefulness of the associated trade is a path many must take to grow.  Remaining at the awe-filled stage of wonder might provide an impetus to follow one’s dream. Who would ever become a doctor if the first thing they experienced was the grind of medical school?  However, some of that initial awe must be converted to actual work in the muck before any use can come of it.

Those initial images and passion may draw us to a new story, just as the river drew Twain.  And if we’re honest, the reality of what it takes to know that story more deeply does change our original understandings, often removing some of the sparkle as we see the under-workings.  But if we look well, we also see new riches.  I have often feared that if I know too much about a subject, it will lose its attraction.  This was the argument I had for not studying literature in college.  Professors would ruin the stories I loved and I wanted to hold onto the feelings of my first readings.  Yet, when I finally entered a literature class, theories of reading and interpretation did not destroy my interest, they provided a deeper understanding.  Furthermore, I gained a language to talk about what I was reading with others. Yes, some of the joy of just sitting down with a book without constantly thinking about it from a critical stance was gone.  But, I had gained a larger community.

So, in the spirit of Mark Twain, I would encourage you to go into piloting.  Learn the course of the river you are on and share it with others.

Twain, Mark.  Life on the Mississippi.  New York: Penguin Classics, 1986.

Categories: Journey Living, Readings | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Such a Time as This

And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?  (Esther 4:14b)

Esther was just a Jewish girl in exile who had been selected by King Xerxes as a favored member of his harem.  She fit in with the others and kept her religion to herself.  It was not in her nature to cause dissension or to bring unwanted attention to herself.  Maybe life in a harem was not what she would have chosen, but she fulfilled her duty there and eventually became queen.  She probably would have been comfortable playing the role of queen for the rest of her life.  It was definitely better than living in the pain of exile and on the margins of society.

However, it wasn’t long before she realized that she could not forsake her past.  A new edict stated that all Jews in Xerxes’ territory were to be killed.  She was safe for the moment because no one knew her ancestry.  But how long would that last?  Her Uncle Mordecai didn’t think it would be long.  Furthermore, because she had access to the King, she of all the Jews could do something about the death decree.  Ugh.  She was in a comfortable position, holding a revered role in a new story.  But really what appeared to have been a whole new story was just a part of that older story she thought she had left – God’s story of saving his people.  So, she returned to that story and risked her life.

Many things today can take us out of God’s story – that work of reconciling people to himself.  We get caught up in the rush to build our lives with a career, friends, and family.  It’s safe and we receive affirmation from society.  However, it can also numb us to the pain and brokenness of others.  That is until we stop and listen to the Mordecais in our lives.  Have we been placed in specific positions for such a time as this?  Are we in positions to play a small or large role in helping God redeem his creation?

Today is Purim, the Jewish holiday set aside to celebrate the story told in the book of Esther.  What better way to observe this time than to join in God’s continued saving ways in the lives of people around us.

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Cracks in the Abbey

It’s a cold February Sunday evening, I’ve finished my work, wrapped myself in a thick blanket, and have the television turned on.  I’m ready to be immersed in a story – Downton Abbey.  Somehow I had missed this series’ arrival on these shores.  Yet, it didn’t take long to catch up and for the last seven weeks I’ve been engaged in the lives of Mary and Matthew, Sybil, Mr. Bates and Anna, Daisy, and others.  The microcosm of this English abbey and its interaction with the wider world has provided an escape from weekly routines.  In such a ‘home’ and village, how could there be anything but fantastic stories?  It’s not another bar down the street, a house in the suburbs, or a city apartment.  Yet, something in these shows has me reflecting on my own life as well – beyond a desire for fine clothes, lavish surroundings, and an adoring suitor.

At one level it’s great fun to think of myself entering the story as one of the ladies of the manor – growing up in a world of privilege with plenty of time just to sit on a bench under a tree and read.  Yes, I would enjoy a slower paced life and the safe structures of a well-defined society with apparently no real worries.  However, at the same time, the many constraints and expectations would eventually drive me crazy.  What’s wrong with attending a political rally or seeking out my own mate?  Why must I dress for dinner and be kind to the guest who is obviously using the family?  The stress of keeping up appearances is all too apparent in most of the characters as cracks in their individual and intertwined stories emerge.

These cracks grew larger as the season finale brought several characters to moments when the stories they had been bravely trying to author, fall apart.  After the war the macro-predictability of Edwardian England is gone, as well as the micro-predictability of one’s role as a servant or even an earl.  What they had expected out of life is often no longer possible.  This can be frightening or merely irritating to someone intent on keeping the comforts of past decades.  However, it can contain also the seeds of freedom.  After creating self-made prisons in order to bear responsibility for mistakes, several characters take the risk of speaking about their offenses.  Intimations of their prisons draw family members and friends to draw out these confessions.  Fearing rejection, they are surprised when their errors don’t condemn them to a life of judgement.  Instead, their honesty provides a new path for a life not previously imagined.  In the aftermath of war, more importance is put on living in an honest mess, than a perfect lie.

I can’t wait to enter this world again on Sunday evenings.  In the mean time I’ll be pondering some questions and looking at the cracks in my own story: What lies am I using to protect myself and others?  What structures in my life and work are useless and even counter-productive?  What new worlds might courageous honesty open?  And, of course, how can I find that adoring suitor with a fantastic accent?

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