Life-giving Presence, whose creation has redeeming power,
Awaken us to the wonder of this day, open to the beauty contained in it. Enliven us by the breath of your Spirit hovering overhead, steady us with the earth beneath our feet. Transform us into cheering and adoring crowds who want to get a little closer, to see more of your celebrity. Our one desire is to enter into your inner circle, perhaps even finding a place at your feet. Then, after having audience with our Creator, make us enthusiastic participants for the restoration of the world. Amen.
Rock of Ages, who carries us to places of refuge.
Use this silence to draw us deeper into the canyon of your love. Bring us low enough to soften our rough edges and fill us with your mercy. Then, direct us to footholds that elevate us to a place of your perspective. When we cannot see ahead, move us to simply listen, waiting upon your guidance for our discernment. Like all those who have gone before us, give us confidence to explore the mystery of your Presence today. Amen.
It seems like every time I look up this summer, the sky has been filled with beauty. One day it is the rosy peach sunset, the next white puffy clouds, rainbows and even lightning storms have enchanted me and captured my attention. The night sky spreads constellations over our heads in the darkness drawing us toward a sense of the eternal.
It says that God separated the vast waters to create the heavens in Genesis. In the New Testament, we hear that Jesus is going ahead to prepare a place for us. So much has been written about heaven especially by those who have been close to death and survived. As a child, I was not nurtured in churches where the teaching oriented one toward heaven as our ultimate goal. My practice of faith has emphasized the here and now.
When I do stop to ponder life after death and our entry into heaven, I think about being totally encompassed with the immense love of God. I imagine a joyous reunion of perfect love with our Creator. And today, I looked up into a clear blue sky with few puffy clouds and the earth around me glowing, even in the midst of illness, hunger, struggle and conflict, the heavens hover over our lives, and the immense love of God surrounds us. There is nothing we can do to have God love us more and nowhere we can go to get more love than right here under this canopy of light.
I love driving into our neighborhood. The road passes over a creek, trees stretch their arms to the sky, and sometimes a hawk flies into view or deer stand still in the landscape. I have a sense of communion with each of our neighbors who are shaped and formed by this same landscape. We see one other daily while walking our dogs, driving to work, attending to our lawns and caring for our children. When the wildness of creation tosses a snowstorm our way, we shovel and share eggs and milk as needed. At times, the landscape becomes still and invites us to do the same. We share a common and connected life with our neighbors.
My active role in the church has given me another neighborhood to dwell in. We are clergy and laity, women and men who are shaped and formed by the particular landscape of tradition. The common life we share is under tremendous strain. We cross bridges and climb over fences in order to reach others cut off by social and cultural divides hoping to share the landscape of God’s love which we confess is so deep and so vast that even we cannot fully grasp it.
I am fully convinced that what the church needs, in fact, what the global neighborhood needs, is to practice resting silently in the One who shapes and forms us by grace, forgiveness and mercy. As we become part of that landscape, we might find our connected, common life is already here.
Celtic spirituality offers us some added disciplines to grow in our understanding of God’s faithfulness. For the ancient Celtic monks, pilgrimage was the art of leaving the comfortable and familiar of home to encounter God. Pilgrimage was often used as a way to share the gospel or to walk in the footsteps of a holy person. Many Jews and Christians participate in pilgrimage by traveling to Israel. Pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the pillars of Islam. We do not need to travel to the place where our faith originated to accomplish pilgrimage. When on pilgrimage, the exposure to creation reveals the Divine Presence through plants, animals, landscapes and natural designs. Each person we meet on the road may carry a divine message.
Pilgrimage begins with preparation. Where are we going and why? We prepare our hearts and minds by establishing an intent, a reason for becoming a pilgrim. Do we have a yearning that needs to be addressed? Is it to watch for God’s Spirit in the world? Or is it to learn about faithful saints, or spiritual leaders? Preparing helps us to set aside other aspects of our life so we can give our full attention to the Spirit that beckons us on the journey. The act of physical packing only the essentials of what we will need is part of pilgrimage. During your time of preparation, be sure to plan a couple of stops during your pilgrimage to visit a special place or take time for reflection.
I believe that we can take on a pilgrim’s heart each time we leave home to accomplish our daily activities. If we leave home expecting to encounter God, there is a good chance we will be open to noticing God every day. No matter what the challenges of our circumstances at work or at school, with our health or our relationships, we can be pilgrims learning from those who walked the path before us. The best part of pilgrimage is bringing home the boon. What did we find while we were away from the comfortable and familiar? Sharing what we learn with others deepens our understanding.
During this Lenten season, I encourage you to practice the discipline of pilgrimage, leaving home for the unknown might open the path for an encounter with the Divine.
Years ago, I wandered into a used book store and found a treasure, titled “Hamewith,” a collection of poetry by Charles Murray published in 1918. The poetry is written in Gaelic and there is a glossary in the back for translating. Hamewith translated from the Gaelic means ‘homewards’ and Murray describes it like this:
“Hamewith- the road that is never dreary,
Back where the heart is a’ the time.”
The heart of our home is a large stone fireplace that burns real logs that we retrieve from fallen trees in the woods. The hearth provides warmth and quickly becomes a gathering place in our home. Today, leaves are fading, falling off the trees and an Autumn chill has set in. This evening, we are gathered around a glowing hearth.
When life gets chilly, colors fade and disappointments begin to decay, what turns your heart homeward?
At times, we find it hard to live in human skin, hard to deal with the human condition both within and around us. Our restless questions move us to look for answers outside of ourselves far beyond our reach. Finding the road home no matter what the circumstances requires that we look deep within and give room for our true selves to grow. Intimacy with God develops when the glow of light appears in the center of our being and what has been alien and unknown becomes a gathering place for mercy and peace.
May your road home never be dreary and may your heart ever dwell in the soft glow and warmth of Love.
Imagine allowing the winds to lift up the sails of a kite carrying you along with it! Freedom! Pure joy! Look again. The kite in the foreground is guided by a pilot. Each kite has harnesses attached to a fine system of tethers all working together to make flight possible. If even one of these connections is missing or tangled, gliding in this kite would not be possible.
The life of faith gives us opportunity to learn and experience the kind of freedom and joy that comes only when we are deeply connected to God and one another. It can take several relationships in order for us to grow. While we all make mistakes in our relationship with God or others, and we may at times feel lost and confused, when we stay connected, somehow, along with the other supports that we have, eventually the Spirit can lift us again. It is there we find the fullness of joy and freedom that comes with commitment.
Making a commitment is difficult today. We have so many choices. We want to experience so much. When making a new commitment, ask yourself if your new commitment will help support the connections you already have in place. Living fully is not about experiencing everything, it is about living within the boundaries of our limitations and finding in those everything we need.