I’ve been thinking about the sojourn lately. At the Seabeck gathering, there was no discussion at all about what to name a missional order, but I was thinking about David Fitch’s Missional Order of St. Fiacre, St. Fiacre being the patron saint of gardeners, and so selected for the metaphor of church planting. The order we were talking about is quite likely to be fashioned as a pilgrim order, being based as it is in Luke 10:1-12 where Jesus sends out the 70 (or 72, depending which manuscript you’re reading). I checked, and discovered that St. Christopher is the patron saint of travelers. St. Christopher is an interesting character, having been de-canonized in 1969 for lack of evidence not only that he lived a holy life, but that he existed at all. “Christopher” means “Christ-bearer”, which is fitting for a sent people. The question of existence resounds in a question that Rick Meigs asked me as we were dwelling in Luke 10 together. “What were their stories?” he asked, pointing out that we don’t know where the 70 came from or what happened to them afterward. This would be a fitting image for us too, who partake in the journey without want of recognition or pride of place. We merely appear, bearing and sharing the peace of Christ, and then move along. In the account of St. Christopher, it is said that he had taken the place of a hermit who guided travelers. Rather than merely guide, St. Christopher would carry them safely to the other side of a stream. One day he carried a child across the stream, and the weight of the child almost crushed him. Arriving on the other side, the child revealed himself as Christ, who was heavy because he bore the weight of the world on his shoulders. An image for us perhaps of the fact that the task of bearing Christ is not an easy calling. Or sending, if you will.
Another Saint of note is St. Brendan, or Brendan the Voyager… or the Navigator, of note in large part for having been an early Irish monastic who took a somewhat legendary journey. At our missional order gathering, we read together the Prayer of St. Brendan during the liturgy that Andrew Jones led.
St. Brendan’s Prayer
Shall I abandon, O King of mysteries, the soft comforts of home? Shall I turn my back on my native land, and turn my face towards the sea?
Shall I put myself wholly at your mercy, without silver, without a horse, without frame, without honour? Shall I through myself wholly food and drink, without a bed to lie on? Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land, placing myself under Your yoke?
Shall I pour out my heart to You, confessing my manifold sins and begging forgiveness, tears streaming down my cheeks? Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach, a record of my final prayer in my native land?
Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict? Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean? O King of the Glorious Heaven, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?
O Christ, will You help on the wild waves?
Considering as we are the text from Luke 10, this is another figure after whom an order might be modeled, or named. My favorite sojourner, of course, and one whose specific journey has come up a number of times here before, is Abraham. In the midst of the great faith-chapter list of sojourners, we find the précis of Abraham’s story:
It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.
From this we learn, of course, the single greatest characteristic of our journey, our sojourn: it is a journey by faith. Other versions use the words like “sojourn,” and say that he lived as an alien, a foreigner, a stranger. Having received the stranger, Abraham receives a promise and a covenant, and he becomes a stranger himself, in a foreign land. Yet The Blessing of Abraham is to “inherit the land in which you are a stranger.”
I love that word “inherit.” It sounds so unlike the phrase “take by force.”
I’m thinking about the sojourn again… and as I continue to dig into Celtic spirituality, I find a new word to express it, a wonderful word, perhaps without a linguistic parallel. I picked up Esther De Waal’s The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination at the library, and have begun dipping into it. Let’s skim through chapter 1: Journeying.
The whole idea of the journey is basic to humanity. I think the universality of the image of the quest, the myths of the odyssey or the search for the Holy Grail, the many stories of wandering and exodus. The monastic life has always been that of continual conversion, moving on, the never-ending transformation of the old into the new. …If we say yest to Christ’s call to follow him, our Christian discipleship asks of us to follow a man who had nowhere to lay his head. Christ himself is the Way and his followers are people of the Way. Just as he entered the wilderness, like Moses and the children of Israel, and made his own journey through life to death and resurrection and new life, so that pattern is inescapable for us all. And if in this model we see Christ encountering temptation and hardship, we, his followers, should not expect anything less. This journey will be costly and the celtic tradition never allows us to forget just how costly. It is also surprising and risky, not necessarily following any clear-cut pattern of having some end and goal in view os that the purpose can be clearly established and then followed. For the really significant journey is the interior journey. As Dag Hammarskjöld said, “The longest journey is the journey inward.” It is here that I need help, and this is one of the reasons why I have found it such a source of strength and inspiration on my own journey to look at the Celtic understanding of peregrinatio, a word and concept that is found nowhere else in Christendom.
The word itself is almost untranslatable, but its essence is caught in the ninth-century story of three Irishmen drifting over the sea from Ireland for seven days, in coracles without oars, coming ashore in Cornwall and then being brought to the court of King Alfred. When he asked them where they had come from and where they were going they answered that they “stole away because we wanted for the love of God to be on pilgrimage, we cared not where.”
Now you have this wonderful word before you, and this sense of journeying without a clearly-defined destination. We’ve rightly called it “journeys without maps,” and we’ve aptly called it “spiritual cartography.” The J.B. Phillips translation of Hebrews 11:8 says beautifully, “Abraham obeyed the summons to go out to a place which he would eventually possess, and he set out in complete ignorance of his destination.” Sounds like peregrinatio to me. Back to our chapter.
This wonderful response and this amazing undertaking comes out of the inspirational character of early Irish spirituality. It shows at once how misleading is that word “pilgrimage” as we use it and how very different indeed is the Celtic peregrinatio from the pilgrimages of the Middle Ages or the present day. There is no specific end or goal such as that of reaching a shrine or a holy place that allows the pilgrim at the end of the journey to return home with a sense of a mission accomplished. Peregrinatio is not undertaken at the suggestion of some monastic abbot or superior but because of an inner prompting in those who set out, a passionate conviction that they must undertake what was essentially an inner journey. Ready to go whereever the Spirit might take themn, seeing themselves as hospites mundi, “guests of the world,” what they are seeking is the place of their resurrection, the resurrected self, the true self in Christ, which is for all of us our true home.
So peregrinatio presents us with the ideal of the interior, inward journey that is undertaken for the the love of God, or for the love of Christ, pro amore Christi. The impulse is love. And if the journey is undertaken for the love of Christ, then it argues that Christ must already hold a place in our lives.
To go to Rome
Is much of trouble, little of profit;
The King whom thou seekest there,
Unless thou bring Him with thee, thou wilt not find.
This short poem reminds me of a truth I must never forget: I shall not find Christ at the end of the journey unless he accompanies me along the way. ….
“Let us not love the roadway rather than the homeland lest we lose our eternal home; for we have such a home that we ought to love it,” wrote St. Columbanus, one of the greatest of all peregrini. At the end of the sixth century, already middle-aged, he had set out to wander over the face of Europe and was finally to die at Bobbio in Italy in 615. “Therefore let this principle abide with us, that on the road we live as travellers, as pilgrims, as guests of the world…” ….In a later sermon he says, “the end of the road is the end of our life, the end of our roadway is our home.”
Paul writes to Timothy, “Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them.” In this way, we attempt to avoid becoming enamored of the roadway, the lands through which we pass as mere guests. Skipping ahead just a little,
However passionate the desire and however total the commitment, this way of peregrinatio is bound to be costly. It means becoming a stranger and an exile to all that is familiar, safe. But the peregrini found an example in Christ, who willingly came down from Heaven and so they could look toward him and see that voluntary exile is laudable since it is in imitation of Christ himself.
….St. Columba is reputed to have said in a sermon:
God counseled Abraham to leave his own country and go in pilgrimage into the land which God had shown him, to wit the “Land of Promise”—Now the good counsel which God enjoined here on the father of the faithful is incumbent on all the faithful; that is to leave their country and their land, their wealth and their worldly delight for the sake of the Lord of the Elements, and go in perfect pilgrimage in imitation of Him.
Does this idea of peregrinatio begin to emerge as an illustration of the life to which we are called? The journey that may be physical or geographical, but is always in a much greater way an inner spiritual journey? As such, it’s not undertaken on the basis of some piece of instruction received from another, such that even if another bids us to travel, the urge to do so ever and always comes from another place, far deeper, something from inside the depths of ourselves. A further excerpt from our chapter:
Thomas Merton, in teaching his novices at Gethsemani what they might expect from their monastic vocation, also used Abraham as the exemplar of a life that he saw as a journey, leaving home in search of God. By becoming a monk, he wrote, “one becomes a stranger, an exile. We go into the midst of the unknown, we live on earth as strangers.” So in a poem he can, like St. Columba, write of his own experience of exile.
We are exiles in the far end of solitude, living as listeners,
With hearts attending to the skies we cannot understand:
Waiting upon the first far drums of Christ the Conqueror,
Planted like sentinels upon the world’s frontier.
By thinking nothing of the place of his birth, by forsaking his own land, he sought to find it; by living in exile he hoped to reach home.
My heart is captured in this phrase from Merton… we live in exile in hopes of reaching home. Such a paradox is not foreign to the Christian faith, and indeed, the deepest truths of our faith are, if anything, fraught with paradox and characterized by a deep complexity too simple to grasp. One last excerpt.
The Welsh saint of the fifth century, St. Brynach, …in speaking of “home” adds one more vital word to my understanding of the journey of the peregrini: the need to find a home, to be at home, in all the many levels that that word can carry. For to be earthed and grounded in the reality of being at home in one’s self and in the world around touches on something that is essential, necessary, if my journey is to have a form and shape. The apparent freedom and abandonment of the early Celtic world could give a misleading impression if it were ever to be mistaken for restless wandering. ….in all of this there is a sense of underlying purpose, an awareness of the importance of form and structure. …I am reminded of what St. Benedict has to say when he castigates the gyrovag, the aimless wanderer, the person who is never at rest but goes on continually seeking, drifting, living off other people, hoping for something new. This is not the Celtic way, and the openness of the peregrinatio should never tempt me to forget that without the still center, the journey, whether inner or outer, is impossible.
I’m going to leave De Waal’s chapter on journey there, for two reasons… copyright, of course, and the fact that this is quite enough to chew on. But the note on which we’ve ended re-introduces purpose into the journey, and realigns it with the ordinary structure of St. Benedict. Here we may begin to see again how the disciplines, the Daily Office, and a common rule of life are helpful, by calling us to the center. We speak of a “path” where we might be better to consider a wide open plain, or an ocean. We could turn in any direction, unsure of where we are going; only our compass guides us in a mapless land, a land through which we are only passing and try not to become distracted by its affairs. An inner longing draws us further. Our spiritual habits and practices nourish this longing and keep it focused, enabling us to read the signs along the way. We press on in search of a goal, though perhaps not of a destination. By staying tuned, we heed the call closer to home, remembering the promises and nourishing the longing.
At our gathering last week, I took no small amount of ribbing from Bill Kinnon for my composition of 3,000-word posts… and with this observation, I will leave the lengthy subject of exile for tomorrow. As for peregrinatio, we find a return to Luke 10, to dwell there a while, and consider the journey of the 70. Strangers in a strange land, passing through, sojourning as “guests of the world,” seeking hospitality and carrying the peace of Christ, taking Christ himself, as it were, with them from one home to another as they shared, in a sense, the peregrinatio of their father Abraham.
Since writing the post, I’ve got the Bruce Cockburn song “Vagabondage” on my brain. Vagabondage means wandering, roving without any clear destination in mind. But as we’ve seen, to lack a destination is not the same as lacking a purpose.
La danse du paysage
Et dans les nuages
D’un tour billon avec des naufrages
Toujours en route….