Quietly joining Sandra and Deidra in their weekend communities. Happy Sabbath, friends.
And who took charge of the ocean
when it gushed forth like a baby from the womb?
That was me! I wrapped it in soft clouds,
and tucked it in safely at night.
Then I made a playpen for it,
a strong playpen so it couldn’t run loose,
And said, ‘Stay here, this is your place.
Your wild tantrums are confined to this place.’
Job 38:8-11, The Message
Happy weekend, friends. May your souls find rest in the One whom wind and waves obey. Quietly linking with Sandra and Deidra:
This is the fourth in a series of posts I’m writing about my experience on pilgrimage in the Alps. If you would like to read more in the series, all the posts are gathered on the page: The Pilgrimage Posts
The experience of the pilgrim in actually walking in the way of others enables them to become a participant in all that has happened. The pilgrim becomes one with all who have gone before. – Phil Cousineau
Based on the weather forecast provided by our fellow hiker and meteorologist friend, we began day two with our rain gear and pack covers tucked near the tops of our day packs. We started our morning with a meditation on The Way of the Pilgrim, standing together in a circle outside the baroque-style Notre-Dame De La Gorge chapel.
Our leader asked us to enter the chapel in silence, and to spend some time thinking about those who have walked with us throughout our journeys of faith. I thought about Mrs. Crouch, the elderly neighbor who held an after-school Bible club; the one who first asked me if I had ever asked Jesus to forgive my sins. I remembered Mrs. Teare, my first Sunday School teacher; the one who taught me in children’s choir to sing the alto line in What a Friend We Have in Jesus.
I pictured my mom; Thompson Chain Reference Bible and Our Daily Bread devotional open before her, sitting at the kitchen table. My cloud of witnesses includes godly aunts, uncles, and grandparents; high school Young Life leaders, college friends, and a pastor whose faithful preaching has fed me throughout my adult life.
I gave thanks for those who have walked with me through years of infertility and the death of my father; seasons of trying to navigate potty training, teenage angst, and attention deficits. Some have walked silently with me; others have offered words of hope along the way. Each has reminded me, when my faith has grown thin, that God is good.
We exited the church in silence, each as we were ready. We fumbled with packs and hiking poles and began our ascent. The path leading from the chapel climbs up and away along a steep Roman-era road which follows a gorge. For centuries, pilgrims have walked this way toward Rome.
I climbed the road in awareness of being in the company, not only of my immediate companions, but also with all who had come before me. And as I walked I found myself singing:
All the way my Savior leads me, cheers each winding path I tread, gives me grace for ev-‘ry trial, feeds me with the living bread.
Though my weary steps may falter, and my soul a-thirst may be, gushing from the rock before me, lo, a spring of joy I see.
Being surrounded by streams of rushing water may have had something to do with my need to sing these words. Drinking more deeply of the reality of being surrounded by God’s presence may also have had something to do with it. My thoughts turned again to the words of the psalmist:
Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. Psalm 84:4, 5 NIV
Our group paused at a stone bridge and marveled at the ancient artistry and craftsmanship it represented. We soaked up the sounds of waters rushing beneath the bridge, snapping pictures in efforts to hold on to the beauty below us. Here, those of who had chosen to ride in the vans said farewell to the hale and hearty pilgrims who were ready to embrace the day and all its dangers. As we parted, rain began.
One of the drivers, my companion for the day, shared with me her stories about life and faith, family and work. It didn’t take long for us to realize we’d walked many similar paths, though she’d already traveled farther down the road in her story. Our conversation reminded me that not all the dangers of life occur at high elevations when there is risk of severe weather. My companion offered life-giving words; words which reminded me that God is good.
Toward the end of the day I asked if I could be let out of the van to walk the last couple of miles to the refuge, our destination for the night. I was feeling the need to stretch my legs and, after all, had come all this way to hike. There was only one road leading to the refuge, so chances were slim that even I could get lost.
I passed few other hikers, extending greetings of “Bon jour!” to those I did. One stopped and asked, “Francais?” When I shook my head in response, it occurred to me that walking by myself in a country where I didn’t speak the language, in a remote area where I didn’t have cell reception, may not have been the smartest thing I’d ever done.
I heard the faint call of cuckoo bird crying out from the distance. “Well, maybe I am,” I thought.
But the view ahead of me reminded me of the glorious power of the One who walked with me.
My husband and the rest of the band of brave hikers arrived at the refuge minutes before dinner was to be served. Some appeared a little battered and bruised. Others seemed to be leaking adrenaline, unable to contain their delight in having hiked hard and long, of having stared danger in the face. They shared their stories, relating the rush they’d experienced while descending steep, snowy slopes via the art of the glissade–a technical term which means sliding down on one’s butt.
At first I felt the loss, not being able to join in on their stories. But God has made me no promise that my life will look like that of anyone else. And he seems to know, better than I do, precisely how much danger I can handle. He promises his presence through the danger and strength sufficient for the day.
When I told my husband I was feeling left out, he offered me the five words I most needed to hear:
You would have hated it.
Dinner consisted of thick, chewy bread and hearty beef stew. Around the tables, wine and story and laughter flowed in abundance. And then, the accordion came out.
One of the staff members from the refuge brought out an accordion which she began to play. I assume she was playing traditional folk songs. At one point, a number of the folks seated across the room from our group linked arms and began singing together in French. Or maybe it was Italian. I’m not sure, ugly American that I am.
I thought back to how the day had begun, how I had shared a journey with others whose feet had traveled the same road centuries before mine did. I know nothing about those fellow pilgrims; I have no way of knowing the reasons behind their journeys, nor how many of them may have wandered from the path along the way.
But I do believe that one day I will sit at a table with many who have gone before me. We’ll eat and drink, tell our stories, link arms and sing together in common language. Perhaps I’ll link arms with Mrs. Crouch.
And maybe, just maybe, there will be an accordion.
Source cited: Phil Cousineau. The Art of Pilgrimage: A Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred (p. 96). Kindle Edition.
Lyrics to All the Way My Savior Leads Me by Fanny Crosby, 1875.
Walk into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They don’t fuss with their appearance—but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? . . . If God gives such attention to the wildflowers, most of them never even seen, don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you?
What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself. Luke 12:27-32, The Message
Quietly linking with Sandra and Deidra: (Comments turned off so I may enjoy a Sabbath from my computer):
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Psalm 84:1, 2
Alone in my hotel room, I washed snotty middle-aged tears from my face, gave into another good cry, then did it all over again. I was discouraged, having heard I might not be up for the challenge of the next day’s hike. The temptation to wallow in disappointment was fierce. I knew I had only two choices. I could either give into the temptation, which is my default mode, or I could wrestle against it in the only way I knew:
By every word that comes from the mouth of God.
I settled into a comfortable chair, fired up my Kindle, and scrolled to Psalm 84; a passage on which a number of us were meditating throughout the course of the pilgrimage. I figured it was as good a place as any to grapple with these ideas of frustration and longing. Or, at the very least, I thought reading the words of the psalmist might distract me from my royal snit.
What did it mean that he longed for the courts of the Lord?
I knew what I wanted; at least I thought I did. I wanted to hear that I had done a good job. I was up for the physical challenge. My hard work had paid off.
I wanted to know I was good enough.
I looked forward to going home and telling my friends that I’d done it—this physical wreck of a middle-aged woman had gotten her act together and conquered the mighty Alps. Instead, I was going to have to tell them I rode in the van. I was going to have to admit failure.
I felt exposed, revealed as a fraud. I don’t even like hiking. I had been hoping a sense of accomplishment might kick in, that my husband would be proud of me and my effort, and that we both would be able to enjoy this time together.
I found myself wanting to go home. I had no business being on this trip, simply taking up space.
I had not earned my place on this trip.
Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Psalm 84:3
The psalmist longed, with mind, body, and soul, to be in the presence of the living God. Writing during the era of tabernacle worship he knew that, lawfully, the courts were as close as he could ever hope to draw near the Lord of Hosts. Only the priests were permitted to enter the holy place, the closest one could come to the presence of God.
But sparrows? And swallows? These were allowed a place at the altar of God? These common, messy, birds amounted to little more than flying barn rats. They bully their way into nesting boxes intended for songbirds. Why were these given a place of refuge near God’s presence? What had they done to merit such privilege?
Not a blessed thing.
God allowed them to draw near his presence, merely to build nests for raising more sparrows and swallows. They were doing the only thing of which they are capable, the only thing God had equipped them to do. And these simple creatures were permitted to dwell in God’s presence simply out of his pleasure and compassion.
Despite my many years of life professing faith in the gospel, it took only a single day on pilgrimage for me to lapse into performance-based thinking. One moment of disappointment revealed the depth of my longing to be considered good enough to be loved by God and well thought of by others.
And I’m not—no more so than is the common sparrow. I wasn’t on the trip because I had somehow earned it. I wasn’t hiking through the splendor of the Alps because I was somehow worthy. My husband hadn’t brought me along based on my ability.
And as it turns out my longing is and will forever remain to know, in mind, body, and soul, the truth of the gospel. Through Christ, God accepts me just as I am.
You’d think maybe somebody could write a hymn about that or something.
God had invited me here, given me the gift of ambling about in the splendor of this place, simply because it pleased him to do so. And I didn’t have to settle for hanging around in a courtyard on the outskirts of his presence; I was wandering around smack-dab in the middle of it.
How lovely is his dwelling place.
After dinner that first evening, we met as a group to discuss details about the next day’s hike. One of our members, a meteorologist, told us we were likely to be hiking in rain which could be heavy at times. He said he couldn’t rule out the potential for lightning. There was discussion about practicing lightning drills, learning how to crouch into a stance to minimize the potential for death by electrocution.
No one could predict the effect of the rain on the snow which remained at higher elevations. It was quite possible we could find ourselves post-holing our way across semi-frozen fields, sinking waist-deep into melting snow with each step. As one whose inseam measures a full thirty-six inches, it didn’t take much imagination to picture the amount of energy it would take to pull myself out of deep holes, step after step after step. I could already hear myself crying out, “Woe to me, that I sojourn in this mountain pass!”
Only using words one raised on the King James, red letter edition, ought not to know.
And lightning drills? These, I had not signed on for.
The group’s leader left the decision up to me, whether or not to participate in the next day’s hike. My husband affirmed his confidence that I could handle the challenge of both the increased distance and elevation gain.
I made my choice and rolled over to sleep that night, at peace with my decision.
And as I rolled I noticed something else, something quite strange and unfamiliar. Was it possible I was feeling quad muscles?
Next: The Way of the Pilgrim
Click here for Longing, Part One
(All scripture references taken from the English Standard Version)
Linking, for the first time with Duane @ Scribing the Journey: