My Psalm 122
Recently we discussed the pilgrimage many undertake to Mecca during their journey of faith. Medieval Anglicanism also had a pilgrimage of sorts. The fourth Sunday in Lent is known as Mothering Sunday and on that day, everyone returned to their home parish, the parish of their childhood. In today’s world, churches often have a reunion Sunday, similar to the annual or every five year reunions that schools have. Also previously discussed was the tradition Princeton had. At the turn of the twentieth century, those who returned to their alma mater three years in a row and take part in homecoming festivities would receive a master’s degree from Princeton.
What pilgrimage have you undertaken recently? For many of us, our pilgrimage of faith began with our baptism. For those in the Anglican Communion, that event happened when we were infants. For those in the Anabaptist tradition, baptism occurred either as teenagers or adults, the movement name stemming from the opposition to infant baptisms. Debate still occurs today as to whether the infant who cannot fully understand the sacrament of baptism should be baptized or if such an important undertaking should wait until the recipient is of an age to understand. My answer to that is simply this: Do any of us really understand ALL we are saying or what that baptism will entail, regardless of our age?
“Child, child, have patience and belief, for life is many days, and each present hour will pass away. Son, son, you have been mad and drunken, furious and wild, filled with hatred and despair, and all the dark confusions of the soul – but so have we. You found the earth too great for your one life, you found your brain and sinew smaller than the hunger and desire that fed on them – but it has been this way with all men. You have stumbled on in darkness, you have been pulled in opposite directions, you have faltered, you have missed the way, but, child, this is the chronicle of the earth. And now, because you have known madness and despair, and because you will grow desperate again before you come to evening, we who have stormed the ramparts of the furious earth and been hurled back, we who have been maddened by the unknowable and bitter mystery of love, we who have hungered after fame and savored all of life, the tumult, pain, and frenzy, and now sit quietly by our windows watching all that henceforth never more shall touch us – we call upon you to take heart, for we can swear to you that these things pass.” With all due respect to Thomas Wolfe, I do think we can return home, although not perhaps to the events of our past as discussed in his work “You Can’t Go Home Again”. I do agree with him, though when he wrote ““I have to see a thing a thousand times before I see it once.”
The fact is that each day is part of our own personal pilgrimage. Although there is nothing requiring such, Christians have been tracing the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth and other events of the Bible since the second or third century. Muslims make their hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca, recognizing it as the home of Adam after he and Eve were sent out of the Garden of Eden. They also believe it to be the birthplace of Mohammed, their prophet of Islam. The Mahabharata advocates visits to holy places in India for Hindu followers and Buddha also suggested places one could take a pilgrimage to, places that were important to his life.
I think perhaps where we walk is not as important as how we walk. Where life takes us is sometimes not in our control but how we make the journey is. I’m not talking about whether we travel first class or coach. I do mean how we treat those traveling with us and the wake we leave as we pass through people’s lives and locations.
Wolfe explains it this way: “He had learned some of the things that every man must find out for himself, and he had found out about them as one has to find out–through error and through trial, through fantasy and illusion, through falsehood and his own damn foolishness, through being mistaken and wrong and an idiot and egotistical and aspiring and hopeful and believing and confused. Each thing he learned was so simple and obvious, once he grasped it, that he wondered why he had not always known it. And what had he learned? A philosopher would not think it much, perhaps, and yet in a simple human way it was a good deal. Just by living, my making the thousand little daily choices that his whole complex of heredity, environment, and conscious thought, and deep emotion had driven him to make, and by taking the consequences, he had learned that he could not eat his cake and have it, too. He had learned that in spite of his strange body, so much off scale that it had often made him think himself a creature set apart, he was still the son and brother of all men living. He had learned that he could not devour the earth, that he must know and accept his limitations. He realized that much of his torment of the years past had been self-inflicted, and an inevitable part of growing up. And, most important of all for one who had taken so long to grow up, he thought he had learned not to be the slave of his emotions.”
Life involves saying goodbye. Seasons change; plants wither; leaves fall from the trees. Before the leaves drop, though, they often provide a colorful display, a rainbow of living that is glorious before going silent. “Something has spoken to me in the night…and told me that I shall die, I know not where. Saying: “[Death is] to lose the earth you know for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth.” Wolfe eloquently explains that our pilgrimage of life is more about the journey and its ending than about trinkets gathered during it.
Wolfe advises us all to “Make your mistakes, take your chances, look silly, but keep on going. Don’t freeze up.” We are not to make our pilgrimage in sadness or boredom. We are to dance through our life singing the praises of all Creation and shouting for joy in the process of living. “[T]he essence of belief is doubt, the essence of reality is questioning. The essence of Time is Flow, not Fix. The essence of faith is the knowledge that all flows and that everything must change. The growing man is Man Alive, and his “philosophy” must grow, must flow, with him. . . . the man too fixed today, unfixed tomorrow – and his body of beliefs is nothing but a series of fixations.”
For some the pilgrimage is one of high adventure and exotic locales. For others, it will be a block down the street. For all, it will be to seek a reunion, not only of friends and familiar places but of the soul. “This is man, who, if he can remember ten golden moments of joy and happiness out of all his years, ten moments unmarked by care, unseamed by aches or itches, has power to lift himself with his expiring breath and say: “I have lived upon this earth and known glory!” Mr. Wolfe, I think the purpose of life is our pilgrimage home, home to our own soul’s delight.
The grey stone rose high, Dear Father.
As I child I stood and gazed upon it every Sunday.
The inscription beckoned:
“I was glad when then said to me,
Let us go into the House of the Lord.”
It still invites me every day.
I awake and walk into your created world.
I pray for the peace of all your cities.
I pray for the lives of all your children.
I pray for my own eventual homecoming to you.
May the pilgrimage of my life find favor in your sight.