Seekers are open, curious, earnest explorers. They are on the hunt for truth, meaning, and purpose. They are in touch with the questions of their lives. They are in touch with their need. There is a profound humility in the seeking process. To be a seeker, one must admit she is not God. He must acknowledge that there is something to understand and experience beyond his current reality. In The Story of God, we become seekers on Freeman’s journey. Our eyes are opened to our own questions about God, death, life, love, and purpose.
These moments of wonder, beauty, and human connection — the simplicity of walking one foot in front of the other each day, open to conversation and observation of the time and space around you — are the elements of pilgrimage for which I am most grateful. As cliche as it sounds some 500 kilometers later, I really do feel like my pilgrimage is just beginning.
I believe pilgrimage, like God, is all around us and within us. And whether we are on this path for the first time or the 199th, there is still something here for us. Maybe not a revelation, but a noticing, a paying attention, a shifting our gaze from ourselves to the sky or the children’s laughter at the park.
If we approached this day as pilgrimage, a wandering toward creation, toward God, toward each other, toward the Earth and sky and stars, how might we see the world?
I had the sense, as a child, that God’s goodness and mercy would only follow me all of the days of my life if I was “good” and Christian. And I had the sense that good and Christian was a narrow way.
This meant two things. First, only “good” people, loving and kind people, people who had not erred or strayed or made mistakes or broken the law or never “back-slid” were the sheep worthy of grace and mercy. Second, only Christian people were in the fold. Not Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs — no, the steadfastly loving God had only space for those of us who accepted Jesus and our Lord and Savior AND who had lived sinless lives.
My child-like sense of “good” shifted when I was a teen serving as an elder in the Seventh Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Being up close and personal with my pastor, the late Rev. Oliver Brown, III and the adults around the table were first- hand lessons of the wide-open space of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
These good people — ordained people — were flawed and funny. They fussed and fought. They forgave each other, as God forgave them. My idea of good stretched and breathed and exhaled judgment and inhaled, experientially, that only God is good, that God in Jesus Christ shows this goodness in a particular way, and that all of God’s people are flawed and loved.
As a young adult before seminary, living life in the world, working, loving, breaking up, making up, having growing pains about identity and purpose and vocation, my spiritual muscles strengthened around the concept of the good shepherd who would love me enough to come and get me if I wandered.
Jesus is the ideal shepherd, the model shepherd, the best kind of shepherd; the one who makes the promises of God available to all of God’s people by laying down his life for the sheep.
I had not yet made the leap but most certainly have now to John 10:16.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
This loving Shepherd has a huge and diverse flock.
Director Jean-Marc Vallee (The Dallas Buyer’s Club) and writer Nick Hornby (author of High Fidelity and About a Boy) attempt valiantly to solve this problem, and achieve some moments of real beauty in the process. However, they never quite find a way to effectively connect Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) in her lowest moments, which include heroin addiction, the termination of a pregnancy, and divorce, with the woman we’re watching hike from Mexico to Canada — a woman who, while troubled, seems to have it considerably more together.
It also doesn’t help that the conversations Strayed does have on the trail tend towards the kind of dialogue that feels less like natural conversation and more like a talk between archetypes spouting bumper-sticker wisdom. The conversations that come up, about choices, regrets, and mistakes made, are all valuable. But the way they happen feels sanitized.
Ultimately, Wild does manage to present some solid thoughts on the process of grief and redemption. Strayed’s observation that everything in her life, both good and bad, led her to becoming a stronger, better person is important. Just as important is the film’s point that our relationships with others are vital to our survival and growth.
There’s no doubt that Strayed’s own experience was powerful and tough. But in its translation to film, particularly a film with a plot and performance tailor-made for awards season, Wild is a movie that’s afraid to upset people. It acknowledges the hard stuff, but barely hints at the true emotional complexities of its story and of its main character. Where it ought to challenge, it merely suggests. And while that’s okay, it’s disappointing that it isn’t more.
When our church receives new members, we share a covenant that includes the commitment to “journey together.” Often, we realize this can mean ‘journeying’ into unwanted, dark, difficult, or surprising places with each other. We have stood with each other as loved ones pass away. We stand with each other in the difficult role of being children of aging parents, or parents of growing children. We bear witness to the power of hope when someone we love struggles with depression. We celebrate commitments made, successes honored, and loves found. The Christian faith, we realize, is rarely about solutions; it is about the authentic and real journey of life and a common trust that our God walks with us, no matter what.
For a variety of reasons, a former bishop in another denomination found us in the immediate aftermath of a horrible car accident that resulted in the death of an innocent and lovely woman in a nearby community.
Rather than becoming a setting to explore the details of this accident, our congregation became a lifeline for him during the months he awaited his fate and eventual conviction of second-degree reckless homicide. Week in and week out, he attended worship, sang with us, prayed with us, and sought spiritual solace with us. His presence was quiet but consistent. He didn’t ask for special attention, indeed didn’t want to make us uncomfortable with his presence. As a person of faith on his own difficult journey, he simply wanted to be in worship with a community.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Ramadan's first day of fasting began today at dawn. This year, Sojourners' Director of Mobilizing, Lisa Sharon Harper, has chosen to keep the fast during the Muslim holy month alongside our friend, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Both Lisa and Imam Feisal will be blogging regularly during the coming days and weeks of Ramadan, sharing with our readers their personal reflections on what the holy month, the fast and journeying together as a Christian and a Muslim means to them. To learn more about Ramadan and its sunrise-to-sunset monthlong fast, click HERE.
LISA SHARON HARPER:
In 2004 I led a group of Intervarsity students on a journey through Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia on a Pilgrimage for Reconciliation. For four weeks we traveled throughout all three countries investigating the roots of conflict and seeds of peace being planted between the Catholic Croatians, Muslim Bosniaks, and Orthodox Serbs. Along the way, we met with Miroslav Volf, who was vacationing in his home country of Croatia at the time. One of my students asked Volf the same question I asked my mentor years before: “How do you engage in interfaith activity without watering down your own faith?” Volf answered with one word: “Respect.”
He explained that Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Love requires respect. We may not agree with our neighbors, but we must respect their minds and their ability to choose the faith they will practice...
That is why I have chosen to embrace my Muslim neighbors by practicing the Fast of Ramadan this year with a spiritual leader who I admire and look forward to learning from, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.
Editor's Note: Sister Joan Chittister, the Benedictine Catholic sister, author and social justice stalwart, delivered the Baccalaureate address at Stanford University a few weeks ago. Below is the text of her address.
Bertolt Brecht, German dramatist and poet wrote: "There are many elements to a campaign. Leadership is number one. Everything else is number two."
And Walter Lippmann said: "The final test of a leader is someone who leaves behind themselves – in others – the conviction and the will to carry on."
But how do we know what it means to really be a leader and how do we know who should do it?
There are some clues to those answers in folk literature, I think. The first story is about two boats that meet head on in a shipping channel at night.
As boats are wont to do in the dark, boat number 1 flashed boat number 2: "We are on a collision course. Turn your boat 10 degrees north."
Boat 2 signaled back: "Yes, we are on a collision course. Turn your boat 10 degrees south."
Boat 1 signaled again: "I am an admiral in her majesty's navy; I am telling you to turn your boat 10 degrees north."
Boat 2 flashed back immediately: "And I am a seaman 2nd class. And I am telling you to turn your boat 10 degrees south."
By this time, the admiral was furious. He flashed back: "I repeat! I am an admiral in her majesty's navy and I am commanding you to turn your boat 10 degrees north. I am in a battleship!"
And the second boat returned a signal that said: "And I am commanding you to turn your boat 10 degrees south. I am in a lighthouse."
Point: Rank, titles and positions are no substitute for leadership.
A recent piece on the Huffington Post's Religion page described the death of Pastor Mark Wolford, a Christian minister known for handling venomous snakes during his worship services to demonstrate the power of his faith. The stunt went south, however, after he was bitten on the thigh during worship and died at a hospital not long after.
The practice, though rare, is employed in a handful of Christian congregations in response to a literal interpretation of verses 17 and 18 in the 16th chapter of Mark:
And these signs will follow those who believe. In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.
There are several dangers this story raises, not the least of which, of course, is death by venomous snake bite. Such communities require public displays of faith that are meant to test the resolve of the faithful. And such practices are not restricted to backwoods protestant churches; some Catholics (and others) are enamored with the phenomenon on stigmata, where people exhibit physical signs of crucifixion, such as wounds on their hands or feet.
There’s the more obvious danger of putting someone in harm’s way by expecting them to perform a dangerous act to prove their faith. But there’s also the undercurrent of religious one-upsmanship, wherein folks are forever striving to be more daring, graphic or otherwise attention-grabbing. In addition to the potential physical danger, there’s the risk of pressing people to be deceptive in their faith practices, simply to enjoy the validation or admiration they seek, and which is held in such high esteem in these particular circles.
It turns out that packing all the belongings you need for at least three months into the back of a Prius is a challenge. Of course, being a guy it’s the kind of challenge that makes life worth living. Anyone who has ever been a Tetris junkie can appreciate the exhilaration of fitting forty-seven differently shaped items into a space made for about half the volume. Yes, I had to jump up and down on the back hatch, and several keepsakes are undoubtedly smashed beyond recognition. But by God, I got it all in there.
While I was basking in the glory of being a master packer, my family was busy feeling. Amy kept up her “four cries an hour” regimen, while three-year-old Zoe melted down whenever she realized this toy or that piece of furniture was not going with us after all. It’s a strange feeling, leaving most of our valuables behind, but for me, it’s kind of liberating. I love the idea of grabbing what I can carry and heading west until I reach the edge of the earth.
Apparently my family doesn’t share the same romantic bug. They like stability.
“This is the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere,” said Amy, wiping tears aside. “This is home.”
“Yeah, but we’re taking home with us,” I said, trying in vain to employ the typically male strategy of emotional deflection.
“Taking it where?”
Howling wind whipped my long, unruly hair in penitent lashes across my face as I stood in the rain, staring at the churning sea at the northernmost point of Ireland. This place, Malin Head in County Donegal, for some mysterious or mystical reason — perhaps because it is such a broody, dramatic place, or maybe it’s got something to do with ancestry, or both — is the spot I love most in the world.
It is a wild land, the kind of place where myths are born, where giants and saints might come bounding over the next hillock followed by a troupe of little people or a herd of magical sheep.
Whatever the reason, I feel at home here and have returned time and again over the last 15 years, drawn to stand on its rocky cliffs like water to the shore.