This is going to be a year of pilgrimage for me ~ and our faith community, too ~ and the journey has already started. Ralph Heintzman writes:
The lesson of all pilgrimage narratives is that true spiritual life lies in pushing through these dark moments to the farther shore. The value of a spiritual life lies precisely in the resources it gives to do this. A life lived in a spirit of reverence, trust and hope ~ as a journey of faith ~ that is to say as a journey of religious practice and exploration ~ provides the spiritual resources to cross over valleys of sorrow and loss, of doubt and despair, to the other side.
That is my experience. As a "practicing Christian" ~ one who hasn't got it all figured it out yet so needs LOTS of practice ~ I have come to trust that most of the time the best thing I can do is shut up, step back and wait upon the Lord. I don't always DO this, mind you (hence the practicing) but I know that it is best. In watching, waiting and even wandering for a while, the will of God begins to become clear in time. As Heintzman observes, "the spiritual journey may be thought of as readying yourself for the many periods, whether short or long, when the answers don't come, when everything seems dark and confusing, when evil rather than goodness seems to be rewarded, when you feel like an outcast, when you are tempted to despair." Such times, too, are part of this journey In fact, they are not the opposite or negation of God's presence, but rather another path of truth. Small wonder this way has been called "the Valley of Bewilderment."
As I watch and pray over the recent events in Libya and Egypt ~ and puzzle over the cruel and calculated political sparing that is taking place in my country, rhetoric that defiles the death of the innocent slain ~ some have asked me to speak out against the madness. And there is a place for calling to accountability both the makers of the ugly anti-Muslim movie that ignited the recent demonstrations in North Africa as well as those who murdered the four American diplomats. Both are hate-mongers ~ and need to face the consequences of their ugly acts. This witness makes sense to me ~ and I will continue to make the voice of reason and trust a part of the public debate. (Here is an excellent example by Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, of what I think makes sense. Please check it out @ http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/09/secretary-clinton-delivers-powerful-religion-speech-after-middle-east-embassy-attacks/#.UFNtw6sEykM.facebook)
But as a person of faith, I don't see much point in joining the political finger-pointing over Mitt Romney's recent manipulation of right wing fear. I don't like it but let's be clear: He is a desperate politician who knows his base is luke warm at best. He doesn't appear to have any deep convictions except winning, so it is expedient to say mean-spirited and manipulative things in his bid to win the election: the ends justify the means. And sadly, politicians always do this ~ Romney isn't any better or worse ~ he's just one of the pack. So I don't think it is my job as a preacher to call him out for his parsing of the facts surrounding these deaths ~ not that I think he should be given a pass ~ rather it is the opposition's job to show where he's been lying and/or playing fast and easy with the truth. That, too, is what you do in politics. Bill Clinton did it like a master on the second night of the Democratic convention ~ and he is the right man for this time, too ~ not me.
No, at this stage in my pilgrimage, I sense my job is to help others go deeper into the practice of our faith. It is fascinating to me, for example, that the Five Pillars of Islam speak of a spiritual life as a series of habits ~ not theological beliefs ~ but practices. "And the habits, taken as a whole, constitute the journey - at least the external journey - that is the characteristic shape of a religious life," Heintzman writes. In other words, "a religious life is given its shape and rhythm by the way religious habits cluster into natural cycles: daily, weekly, monthly and so on."
It is my observation that many in our congregations no longer practice the habits of reverence. We don't know ~ or have chosen to forget ~ or maybe never learned the daily and weekly rhythm of a life of faith. In the past I have suggested we reclaim some public benchmarks like gathering weekly as God's people to engage in God's word, reflect on its meaning for ourselves and our world and then return back into the world as a fount of blessing. Henri Nouwen has suggested a similar set of practices based on the movement of the Eucharist: we are taken by God to be broken, blessed and shared with the world. And Christine Pohl has written that our community life might be guided by the practices of: gratitude, truth-telling, promise-keeping and hospitality. (And Peter has helped me add the practice of nourishing salvation, that is, caring for yourself in spirit, body and soul.)
That is part of this year's pilgrimage ~ reclaiming and encouraging our faith community to practice the "habits of reverence" ~ but it also holds a personal dimension, too. The individual habits that I am being drawn to this year include public worship, but also regular reading, quiet meditation and exercise. "If faith is something you do, this "doing" takes a form, primarily the form of pilgrimage: a spiritual quest which not only spawns the religious habits that give shape to a religious life, but is also the purpose of such a life." I love the way chapter seven in the book Rediscovering Reverence puts it:
If the religious life is a search for something, it would be a contradiction to think that the thing sought must first be found for such a life to begin. This is where so many conventional ideas about religion prove to be utterly mistaken. They assume that to lead a religious life, a life of religious practice, one must first have found something called faith. But this is backwards... it is a serious misleading to suppose that the way to get religious faith is to find out what it is and then go in pursuit of it. Rather, faith is the name we give to the fact that one is in pursuit of something (or Someone) at all.
I like the way Pink put's it here ~ and I would only change one thing ~ instead of 25 years I would say: 60!
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