GRACE UPON GRACE

By Doyt+

308,560 steps later the walking has come to an end, but the pilgrimage I pray, continues on.  We finished at Canterbury Cathedral standing on the ground where Thomas Becket was martyred, holding hands, and praying together.  That may have been the moment when we handed over whatever pain, sorrow, and suffering we were carrying to the care of this saint.  For me, what I needed to bring to that sacred ground became crystal clear a half mile earlier at the church of St. Dunstan’s.  It was there we stopped and knelt in prayer in preparation for the final leg of our journey to Canterbury.  In a flash my mind filled with three things I had been carrying for a long time that had blocked me from the flow of God’s love.  And so I pulled them from my mind, and set them in my heart, and walked with them as an offering to St. Thomas.

After our prayers at St. Thomas Becket’s memorial, we checked into the hotel only to return forty minutes later to the martyrdom site, where Kari Glover invited us to participate in the reading of parts of T.S. Elliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral.  She began by telling us something of T.S. Elliot’s life, and then she gave us the context of the Thomas Becket story.  Finally, she gave each of us a script to read from.  We had assigned parts, which served as a metaphor I thought, for the assigned parts we had played within our lives as pilgrims together.  After the reading, we went and sat in the Canterbury choir to hear Evensong.

At 7 PM we returned to the Cathedral for a candlelit tour, which was really a service, led by Canon Claire.  The Cathedral was dark and empty.  We started in the Nave where Canon Claire invited us to “touch” the Cathedral as she sang a haunting song that filled the entire building.  I lay on the floor and looked up at the ceiling, and as I did, I had the distinct sense that I was floating on the ceiling with the floor (which was the ceiling) far below.  It felt like a Kingdom of God perspective.  It was glorious, liberating, soaring, ethereal, and seemed to last longer than a clock would record.  From there we continued through the Cathedral in silence, stopping for prayer as Canon Claire filled the space with her chants.  It was a service that is imprinted upon my soul and brought closure to the mystery of pilgrimage.

Finally, Wednesday morning before our formal tour of the Cathedral, we gathered to bring closure to our common life together.  After our morning prayers, we went around the room and shared our experiences and thoughts.  There was much laughter and some tears.  By the grace of God we had traveled some 145 miles (depending on who you ask) and arrived more in love with one another and with God than when we started.

For me, this was an intense, connecting, exhausting, and exhilarating journey.  The Holy Spirit was with us, and along the way we came to know more and more, how much God loves us… and it is in this knowing, deep within our souls that inspires and even determines the grace by which we continue to walk this pilgrims’ way.

No Man’s Orchard

20170321_133950 (1)

Just outside Chartham Hatch is an old organic legacy variety apple orchard in the Kent countryside. Nine years ago, in the woods just past this orchard, I experienced a thin place where I believe I heard God speak to me, telling me to come back, to keep going, and that more would be revealed. It was the moment in which I became a true pilgrim, coming back to England to seek presence in the countryside from time to time.

I have looked forward to coming back ever since but as I walked through No Man’s Orchard this time headed for the woods I had low expectations. Lightning doesn’t strike twice. I’ve already experienced many things that have changed me I thought to myself, and for a while nothing much was happening.

But then I started to hear the tops of the trees click together in the breeze and as they went click-clack-click-clack a feeling came over me. No words this time. Just a feeling. A feeling of warmth, peace, and safety. You are beloved of me, and I am giving you my warmth, peace, and safety. I am here.

A totally different experience, and it is authentic because this is just what my soul needs now, this time. Not the challenge to come back, go deeper, go further. Just be here with me, relax your soul into Me.

Catching up to the rest of the group we quickly made our way into Canterbury and we had a full slate of activities. We read T. S. Elliott at the Beckett martyrdom site. We all went to Evensong. We had a candlelight service alone in the cathedral with Canon Claire Edwards which many of our group said was the highlight of the trip. Simply amazing to be in the crypt alone, at night, with friends and a few candles.

Today we shared as a group and started the process of leaving. 11 of us went to a cathedral tour given very capably by Alex. And then it was over – no more events, no more plans, nothing more to do. I felt a sense of loss for a while, but I also know that it is going to take me weeks and months to unpack this entire experience and to see what it meant, means, and will mean. As I write 6 of our number remain at the Cathedral Gate Hotel and we are saying some goodbyes, and only 3 of us will take the train together to London tomorrow. It is time to turn towards home.

The God who Walks

I have a little secret which I need to tell you – I have always had trouble with the second Person of the Trinity – you know, that one, the Son of God. I have not been for my entire life been entirely comfortable with Jesus as my Savior and Lord. I know, not something to talk about as a good Episcopalian in polite company.

God the Father and The Holy Spirit – no problem at all. I pray to them both, all the time, every day.

The most significant thing that this pilgrimage has given me is a way to go forward with Jesus. What I have been able to see in all this walking and suffering is that Jesus knows what it is like to be me. The kinds of things that Jesus went through I feel like I am going through too, and I have been able to reach out to Jesus to ask him if He will walk with me through the next period of my life. Together, at my side. Helping me up when I fall, encouraging me when my strength fails. Listening to my story and teaching me what to do and what choices to make.

Jesus walked everywhere. All the time. His entire ministry was conducted on foot, on the way somewhere. So my love of walking is perfectly suited for this God who walks. Nothing could be more natural.

A stool needs three legs to be stable. I can see that my worship of the two Persons all these years is like a stool with only two legs. It can stay up, but only at the cost of constant exertion and vigilance to keep the structure from falling down. I feel like that has been me. Doing everything I can to keep things going and keep them from falling. Well despite all that effort everything fell down anyway. What I now have is God in me (Spirit), God alongside me (Son), God all around me (Father), and the gift of this time away is this new and stable structure that is the foundation of a new life for me. Solid and enduring. Peaceful and stable. Something I can rest with and into.

I want to deeply thank all of the people who came on this crazy adventure with me. You were the test pilots with parachutes on with me hoping the structure would fly and bring us safely home. It did hold, and something of this experience will go forward and endure.

EPIPHANY IN 1000 YEARS

By Doyt+

We have visited many churches on this pilgrimage, and the one thing they have in common is that they are old. Super old.  Like a thousand years old.

Standing there in one of these churches the other day the question arose in my mind: “Will Epiphany be around in thousand years?  Or even five hundred?”  It is not a thought I’d had before, and it is probably not a thought many of you have had either.  And yet, if God is God, and Christianity is an experience by which we learn to better and better live in the flow of the world as God made it, then why wouldn’t Christianity exist?  In fact, how could Christianity not exist?  God isn’t going anywhere, so why would the church?

From that perspective things look a little different. The church becomes the steady state, and we become the transients that take the baton for a time and then hand it on.  Holly Boone noticed this as she sat in St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s Church’s Sunday service in Aylesford. Observing the congregation, she wondered if that St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s person was Ed Emerson, and if that person was their Alice Foreman, and if that one was their Cory Carlson, and if that was their Elizabeth Walker, and if that was their Jan Melin, and if that was their Bob Barnes…  We have our place in this state of steady Christianity.  We were born for it, to nurture it, and to pass it along.  And so I ask you, where else is your destiny so material?  Where else does what you do and how you do it come from such a noble heritage and promise such a great patronage all at the same time?

I believe that Epiphany will be a spiritual center of gravity for the city of Seattle in a thousand years.  The part we play toward that end will make it so.  It comes from knowing who we are.  It requires being community together.  It expects generosity.  Our role is to move the ball down the field, seeking in our tradition a place in this arc of salvation that is God’s destiny for creation.

Brief but timeless

20170320_065924

By Holly

The White Horse, The King’s Arms, The Bull, The Dog and Bear. The names of the inns where we pilgrims lodge along the way evoke another time, another England. Indeed, most have been inns and taverns from as early as the 14th Century. That fact bogles the American mind.

Stairs are narrow and steep. Ceilings are low. Rooms might be oddly shaped. Floors creak at every step. Where horses were once stabled cars are now parked. Plumbing, however, is reasonably up to date, and beds are very comfortable. I am enjoying every minute we spend at these delightful accommodations.

When we (gratefully) step into one of these establishments at the end of our walking day, I invariably think of the thousands (millions?) of lodgers who have preceded us, either last week or centuries ago. The same thought comes to mind when I sit in an ancient church; I imagine myself and fellow congregants dressed in the uncomfortable-looking clothing depicted in the statuary and memorial tombs of various important somebodies from other centuries.

Among all these reminders of the past, I am almost hourly struck afresh how brief is the individual life. Yesterday as we walked to Aylesford, even the billowing, cultivated hills of the North Downs reminded me of the lines from Tennyson’s Tithonus, which articulates this brevity with admirable concision:

The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan.

But the inns are still here. The villages and the churches are still here. Institutionally, we humans can live a long time. We may strut and fret our hour upon the stage, but the play continues with other players.

I wish that an eternal, time-lapsed camera could be trained on the front doors of these inns or on the church yards we visit. Then we might see people coming and going in their medieval, Tudor, Jacobean, Victorian, Edwardian, Mod clothing, hairstyles, speech, attitudes and habits. We could see them gradually becoming people who are, for a moment, just like us.

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE REFUGEE

By Doyt+

There are a lot of people walking right now.  I have heard it said that this is the largest human migration in the history of the world.

As my steps started to feel heavy yesterday, I considered all of those fathers who are shepherding their families out of Syria.  Imagine how heavy their steps feel.  Imagine the burdens they are carrying. Leaving their home, knowing that it will be destroyed, if it hasn’t already been destroyed.  Leaving their work and friends and ancestral lands.  Running away for the sake of the lives of their children, and yet not knowing where they are going; not even knowing from whence their next meal will come or where they will lay their heads that night.  And the risks, the dangers, the harms way they are setting their families in.  Bandits, thieves, swindlers, kidnappers.  All human pathologies love a good crisis.  It is a feeding frenzy for the sociopaths.  Their sadism finds safety in the chaos.  This is what the father is walking into as he walks away from something even worse.

Thoughts of this reality broke my heart yesterday as my tired legs walked toward Canterbury. My eyes filled with tears. Empathy is tweaked on the pilgrim’s journey, because humanity walks.  We are transient.  The Bible calls us sojourners.  That was how our father Abraham described himself.  Work, friends, and ancestral lands are more ethereal than we might imagine.  Our life is a journey, and only the steady presence of God travels with us.  Only the secure presence of God is with us from: home to university; from health to hospital; from marriage to single or single to marriage; from work to retirement; from death to life.  Our God is the travelling god, surely and consistently.

And so you say: “That may be true for the secure, safety net guy from Seattle, but how about the father from Syria?”  This is the question, isn’t it?  I can’t honestly answer it specifically because I have not had to rush my family from the danger of war, through the swirls of chaos that surround the theatre of war, toward a safe country that does not want me.  I have not had to do that.  But as a pilgrim making a long walk to Canterbury, God has given me moments where I am compelled to say thank you.  Thank you for this grace.  Thank you for that kindness.  Thank you for that piece of luck.  Thank you God.  And I imagine this type of gratitude comes 10,000 fold to the lips of the refugee father.  I imagine he is can hardly be a faithless atheist, quite the contrary, I imagine as he faces the horror, he knows that God is firmly at his side.  For protection?  At times.  For consolation?  At times.  For a break?  At times.  For laughter?  At times.  For mercy?  At times.  In all times the wise man with eyes to see and ears to hear knows the presence of God.

My pilgrim’s glimpse into this greater reality inspires me to pray even more earnestly for the refugee.  I now know why the prayer for the sojourner is the pilgrim’s prayer.

THE PATTERN OF PILGRIMAGE

By Doyt+

We pray.

We eat.

We walk.

We pray.

We eat.

We walk.

We rest.

We pray.

We eat.

We pray.

We sleep.

This is the pattern of our pilgrimage.  For seven days that is what we have done.  I know… crazy!  Really?  People from Epiphany?  I think we are as surprised as any of you who are reading this blog.  I certainly am, and I’m your priest.  This is truly the Pilgrimage 400 series.

As I was walking yesterday and wondering about this pattern it occurred to me that this is Lent.  And it occurred to me that in Lent, for those open to the intervening nature of the Holy Spirit, it should be no surprise that Lent is a two-way encounter.  I chose to step into Lent, which is the 46 day season in our liturgical calendar that asks us to consider our eternal relationship with God, in order to fully set my life in the context of God’s life.  So why should I be surprised that God reciprocates?  This pattern of pilgrimage is God’s response to my “yes” to Lent.  It is God saying, “Where you thought this pilgrims’ journey would be 10 miles a day, I am making it 15.  Where you thought it would be 15 miles, I am making it 20.”  “Why God?” I ask.  To which I hear: “Because I love you; because I want you to know full stop that where you can’t, we can together; where you would choose ease, together we choose transformation; where you live a tepid life, together we live a world-changing life; because pilgrimage is not a vacation for your leisure, it is a vacation with me, God, and that is best realized when the day is full to the rim with prayer, food, walking, and sleeping.”

Paul captured this reality well in Romans 5 where he wrote: “Suffering produces endurance; endurance produces character; character produces hope; and hope never lets you down.”  I am not sure exactly what my new found dependence on God will look like in my Seattle life, but I have hope, a new hope, a hope that how I live will be different.  And in my prayers, I hope it is a braver and more sure-footed, and a more trusting life because God walked with me, so clearly and consistently, on this pilgrims’ journey to Canterbury.