“What do you consider as of most importance, the destination you want to reach, or the actual journey it requires you to make?” This is an easy answer on a Sunday afternoon, when you want to take a leisurly spin with the family and you have time to burn. However, if our situation were to change and we have several important stops to make on way to the office, a trip has a different complexion altogether. Admitted, there are times to confront such stress head-on and times to reprioratize and employ our freedom to choose more leisurely. In any case, it is good to keep our options regarding our coice consciously before us.
One can enjoy a journey that is stress filled and harbors demanding choices, just not as a regular diet.
When we are overwrought in the stress of fulfillment or achievement, we can push back from the desk, the telephone, the steering wheel, or activity to give ourselves space in which to observe how we are deciding from among the choices at hand. If we are concerned with what we see, we can “take a moment,” like John, one of tbe partner Lawyers on the series Ally McBeal, to see our options more clearly before we continue on our way. Such moments are our right and our choice to offer ourselves the space we need.
Learning can be approached from different perspectives. The basic questions for me are do I simply receive or do I interact.
For as long as humans have walked, they have walked to get closer to their gods.
The Greeks made these quests, as did the Israelites, the Mayans, and the Chinese. Jesus hailed these journeys, along with the Buddha and the Prophet Mohammad. These wanderings have been around forever. Pilgrims made them in the eons before writing was invented. Believers made them in the millennia during which the great civilizations were built. Seekers follow them today.
Six stages characterize every pilgrimage:
The Call: The opening clarion of any spiritual journey. Often in the form of a feeling or some vague yearning, that summons expresses a fundamental human desire: finding meaning in an overscheduled world somehow requires leaving behind our daily obligations. Sameness is the enemy of spirituality.
The Separation: Pilgrimage, by its very nature, undoes certainty. It rejects the safe and familiar. It asserts that one is freer when one frees oneself from daily obligations of family, work, and community, but also the obligations of science, reason, and technology.
The Journey: The backbone of a sacred journey is the pain of the journey itself. In India, pilgrims approach the holy sites barefoot. In Iraq, they flagellate themselves. In Tibet, the more difficult the trip the most merit the pilgrim acquires. In almost every place, the travelers develop blisters, hunger, and diarrhea. This personal sacrifice enhances the experience; it also elevates the sense of community one develops along the way.
The Contemplation: Some pilgrimages go the direct route, right to the center of the holy of holies, directly to the heart of the matter. Others take a more indirect route, circling around the outside of the sacred place, transforming the physical journey into a spiritual path of contemplation.
The Encounter: After all the toil and trouble, after all the sunburn and swelling, after all the anticipation and expectation comes the approach, the sighting. The encounter is the climax of the journey, the moment when the traveler attempts to slide through a thin membrane in the universe and return to the Garden of Origin, where humans lived in concert with the Creator.
The Completion and Return: At the culmination of the journey, the pilgrim returns home only to discover that meaning they sought lies in the familiar of one’s own world.
During my Junior High School years (remember Junior High?) My parents placed me under the tutelage of an old, retired teacher, named Mrs. Lee. Mrs Lee, a great grand daughter of the famous Southern general Robert E. Lee, lived adjacent to my school in a large yellow antebellum mansion that was itself a bit mysterious for a young southern boy.
Mrs. Lee was a pint size jolly septuagenarian lady with silver hair and an infectious laugh. She had been a grade schoolteacher in her time and had developed special skills for teaching young persons how to read and continued tutoring kids long into retirement.
The house had tall slender windows with open panes that let in the light revealing flowery tattered wallpaper of an earlier era that revealed its age and the care of its owner. I usually arrived early for lesson, and was allowed to rummage around exploring nooks and crannies, trinkets and memorabilia on display or tucked at the end of shelves in her burgeoning bookcases.
I literally loved going there and being allowed to explore before getting down to the business at hand. One day, I can remember, I discovered a large square cabinet in the adjacent room. On its front were two long cabinet doors and a crank on its right side. Unable to restrain my curiosity I carefully opened the two vertical doors revealing an ornate grill framing oblong cotton cover. Addional inspection revaled that the cabinet top lifted from the front. Peering in I saw what should have been a turntable, but was more like a round tray with a ¼ inch high rim. Just to the right of the tray there was an arm like a phonograph but it had no needle, I could not figure out what this odd player would work. It was different from any I had ever seen. Confused, I asked Mrs. Lee when she enter the room to start the lesson.
“O honey,” she laughingly replied, “That’s an old Victrola phonograph, record player.”
“This does not appear to be able to play,” I replied.
“O, its been that way for years,” she continued, “One day years ago it just stopped working. There are some records in the lower cabinet under the speaker.”
I curiously assessed the apparatus before me once again. I discovered the circular tray was not tray at all. It was the turntable on the old machine. Years before someone had turned the playing surface upside down and left it. Mrs. Lee, not mechanically inclined, left it that way. To her mind it had stopped working. It was broken. I inverted the turntable and it fit perfectly. I turned the crank to wind the drive spring, found an old 78 record and inserted a wooden needle discovered in a small compartment. These adjustments completed, the old phonograph played as it had years before.
“That’s wonderful!” laughed Mrs Lee. I can hear those records once again.” She was like a child with a new toy. She began to rummage through the old hard discs locating music she thought had been lost to her. It was so much fun and I felt like my limited understanding of electronics had truly been useful that day. In the weeks that followed, she would recall with sheer joy how thankful she was at the return to function of her phonograph. I heard her comments as personal gratitude for what I had done.
Have you ever received gratitude for something YOU have done for another? Certainly, you have. Such grateful responses come as moments of great celebration and empowerment. You feel valuable to others and encouraged to do even more.
Thanksgiving is an annual national celebration of just that, GIVING THANKS, for what has been done for us. Ancestors who stuck it out. Weathering hardships most of us can not fathom in order to settle this new land and raise families that would see it as home. Every step we take, we are supported by the life-giving efforts of others who have gone before. Our weekly services of worship are actually times to pause, in our ever busying routine, to give thanks for the circles of caring and empowerment within which we live. Not just those we can list when we put our mind in gear, but the myriad relationships which we daily continue to take for granted or even those of which we are unable to be aware.
Mrs. Lee helped me experience the empowering feeling of being on the receiving end as someone to whom thanks is given. When you receive thanks, it is like loose ends are somehow tied together. When someone thanks me for something that I have done, it is as though they have validated the relationship, even if I had no ulterior motive in helping out.
NO PROBLEM A typical response these days, when someone else thanks us for something that we have done, is to quip off, “No problem.” We say “No problem,” rather than you are welcome or glad to do it, or something more relational. I have tried to eliminate this glycerin like expression from my responses for that reason. I suppose, when that is said, it is an attempt not to encumber the other with a sense of obligation. But along with it we eliminate the notion of value that is also implied. If you are someone of value to me, knowing that our relationship is worth investing in is a good thing. My response then is a way of affirming the value of our relationship and by extension, you as a person.
The same holds true in one’s relationship with God. The Hebrew idea of thanksgiving involved a recognition that God was the sole source of power in ones life. It’s a way of recognizing the value of the relationship as an important source and resource in our lives.
At Thanksgiving we remember the early stories of survival recounted by our genetic and spiritual ancestors. We recognize that we are NOT SELF-MADE PERSONS. Our lives are built on the dedication, sacrifices, genetics and spiritual contributions of other persons, often others who will, of necessity, remain nameless to us. Even those of us who have drawn on our own abilities, resources or achievements. We are eternal recipients of the contributions of others even if we don’t know who to personally thank.
Thus, Thanksgiving is not just a national celebration, its not just proper etiquette, it is lifelong state of mind we are invited to cultivate. Thanksgiving suggests THANKS LIVING. It is a recognition of the essential relationships that feed and empower our lives daily.
And so, may I invite you on this Thanksgiving, even if it is over a burger at a fast-food franchise. To join me and think on these things. OK?
Realizing this moment of opportunity, I see myself as a part of God’s whole created order. I participate in the divine creative/healing process that has been working in and around me from the day of my birth. This marvelous process is constantly knitting together fragments of my being in ways of which I am generally unaware.
Laws of renewal work involuntarily regularly rebuilding my cell structures. Immune systems shield my body from constant infectious bombardment. Energy and elimination systems replenish reservoirs, feeding regenerative systems. When I am consciously aligning my decisions with the daily needs of this process, I am participating in God’s continuous activity, and honoring divine law.
Realizing radiant health within me, I breathe in each renewing breath of life. In turn, I breathe out unnecessary elements. I, then, breathe in again. In and out. In and out, in the renewing rhythm of my life.
Returning to the renewing rhythm of life, I become aware of my yearning to employ the same laws for the benefit of all creatures everywhere as I continue in vital balance revitalizing the divine gift I have been given.
“The worst thing we ever did was put God in the sky out of reach pulling the divinity from the leaf, sifting out the holy from our bones, insisting God isn’t bursting dazzlement through everything we’ve made a hard commitment to see as ordinary, stripping the sacred from everywhere to put in a cloud man elsewhere, prying closeness from your heart.
The worst thing we ever did was take the dance and the song out of prayer made it sit up straight and cross its legs removed it of rejoicing wiped clean its hip sway, its questions, its ecstatic yowl, its tears. The worst thing we ever did is pretend God isn’t the easiest thing in this Universe available to every soul in every breath”
Chelan Harkin From her poetry book. ‘Susceptible to Light’
My early years were spent in Canyon, Texas where my father accepted the job of Librarian at West Texas State University. We lived in four houses that year and built a new family home. My brother and I were just learning to play together. One day an amazing dental accident occurred in which it appeared he had irreparably damaged his front teeth, but upon returning from the dentist, he broke free of tending arms and bounded across the room, stumpted his toe and accidentally fell slamming the damaged incisors back in place.
During that same year I observed a tanker truck catch fire as it refilled a gas station across from our second storey appartment. I froze against the large window pane UK watching the quickly unfolding drama as the driver bravely dove into the flaming vehicle and drove it to a vacant lot then jumped free seconds before explosion. It was a full year for our family.
Another experience frozen into memory’s retina is Easter Sunrise Service. Canyon recieved its name due to its proximity to the Palo Duro Canyon. The history of early Panhandle settlement by homesteading immigrants in our displacement of native american peoples unfolded along its red caprock and escarpments reaching some one hundred twenty miles.
Easter mornings began as our parents awakened and bundeled us for a chilly Sunrise Service on the rim of the Palo Duro Canyon. The trip of thirty minutes was mostly dark adding to the excitement. Services were observed from an amphitheatre on the west rim of the canyon. We sat in silence until the first rays of the Easter sun broke the distant easten horizon then the singing began. The colorful view that emerged from the darkness has never left my aging memory.
Now late in life I live near another canyon of wonder. Just south of Grand Junction is the Colorado National Monument displaying miles of escarpment along the western Colorado River. It is one of the best kept secrets of Colorado mountain majesty. It is the north end of a range called the Uncompahgre (not to be confused with the Summit County peak of the same name) stretching from Grand Junction south to Telluride. The park is alive with wildlife, mountain bike and hiking trails, geologic and historic wonders to tempt any amature or professional geologist, naturalist or shutterbug.
For about fifteen years, my responsibilities as a pastor involved annually gathering with some 300 early risers for Easter Sunrise celebrations on the Colorado National Monument. The ecumenical service was created a number of years prior drawing together two United Methodist Congregations (Redlands & Fruita churches), and, presently, drew worshipers from all over the Grand Valley. Some hearty adventurous souls would camp nearby the night before keeping vigil in the early April chill. First to arrive, they could be seen gazing quietly into the abyss on the still dark rocky western escarpment overlooking the vast panoply of canyons that charmed the imagination. Around six AM lowlanders began arriving by car, lights piercing the twilight, trailing up the serpentine park-road from the Valley below.
We are confined to our home, the governor of Colorado has issued a Shelter in Place order.
This Easter morning, the sky is clear. The promise of a beautiful day unfolds with coffee and biscotti, bundling only in the minds eye. We are confined to our home, the governor of Colorado has issued a Shelter in Place order. It is the first such order in historical memory. It was issued to hault the unslaught of the deadly COVID-19 a contagious virus now spreading at will throughout the world. No gathering or social events, and persons must maintain a social distance of 6 feet from other individuals. Returning tourist and merchant vessel and foreign flights are quarantined. Uncertainty broods as future treat seems imminent. Easter is usually a welcome outcoming, after the cold winter, for friends and families to break forth from their cloisters, to join with others in music, food and socializing. It is a hopeful celebration, in the Christian tradition, about resurrection, and new life resurrected from old remains. For all it seems to be a time of beginning again.
Worshippers gathered on the naturally bleachered cliff sides overlooking Wedding Canyon. The sight was magnificent, as the sun, ever so slowly, peaked cascading light over distant mountains and mesas revealing the paleolithic sandstone towers and canyons before us. Perched, piering eastward, one could almost imagine the dawn breaking over the the legendary garden sarcophagus as the women tearfully approached the burial site of Jesus.
If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.
I love this job! It has often afforded me the opportunity to take a peek into other’s stories and discover the person behind the moment of meeting.
There was the Country & Western Singer struggling with alcohol and yearning for one more admiring crowd with whom to share his talent. Then there was the high wire electrician who I met on his daily rounds caring for an elementary age daughter, assisting in classes and helping out at his church. How did he come to such a tame existence, you may ask? He was blown from a high electrical platform in a Georgia nuclear plant when someone accidentally caused the core to drop into the reactor. Kzroom! I met him at what turned out to be the end of is life after he struggled and finally succumbed to radioactive burns for over ten years. He was a kind and heroic soul. There was the baseball scout and world traveller who I met between a trip to Vietnam and planning his next trip to Paris. Voracious reader, he researched broadly his next adventure. Unfortunately he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and chose to heroically meet it head on, without chemo, and make his final journey in style. I have chauffeured ex-talkshow hosts, University Professors, County Deputies, massage therapists, cosmetologists, teachers, ministers, talented and industrious street people and many hourly workers about their daily role serving others in the Grand Valley.
Yesterday, however, I met another unusual rider. He boarded on a previous run to be delivered to a Walmart Neighborhood Grocery. As he returned home we began a brief conversation. I asked how long he had been riding a wheelchair. “Several years,” he replied. He complained about the ravages of old age, a recurring theme among transit passengers. “I worked for a Silicone Valley aerospace company,” he replied. “Was head of HR, drew a six figure salary.”
I looked at his disheveled figure, crumpled in an electric wheel chair with white plastic grocery bags strung over the handles. What a comedown I thought. Six Figures to subsistence living. “What Happened,” I asked as I unloaded him.
“Had a heart attack, then another. I tried to return to work but I couldn’t keep up the pace. I become a victim of diabetes having lost his right leg just below the knee. We lost our home and likelihood of other employment. The bottom just fell out. It happened relatively fast. Subsequently we decided to leave California and move closer to kids. So here we are.”
“Here he is,” I thought, “living in a subsidized apartment in a strange new world scraping by on a monthly disability check.” “I’m 74,” he continued. No one wants to hire me at my age. “I can see how it feels the bottom dropped out.”
I finished releasing the anchors on his chair so that he could move toward the lift. I stepped to the door. He turned his chair and three of the six bags he was carrying caught on the safety bar ripping holes in their bottom, a cruel emphasis to his discouraging tale.
I picked up and repackaged his meager food items, positioned his chair on the lift and helped him de-board. Chairs are the least favorite devices to transport. Drivers have to be very careful and attend to strict procedures to assure safety. Once on the sidewalk my new friend turned and drove off promising to see me another day.
At 77, I understand his observation of old age. I often feel like I am teetering on a quivering precipice uncertain about the future and wondering how much longer I can hold the line. The meeting of our stories, however, was strangely affirming, reminding me to appreciate life daily for as long as it lasts.