In his thirteen years as Vicar, popular author David Adam welcomed over 1 million pilgrims to the Holy Island of Lindesfarne in Northumberland. Each pilgrim had a story to tell and each came for a different reason. Some radiated a sense of God's presence, and others were simply too hurried to do anything but look around quickly and move on to the next site.
Using the stories of pilgrims Adam encountered on Holy Island, he explores how we can approach our own lives as pilgrimage, without ever leaving the comfort of our homes. How can we move beyond what is safe in our world and encounter the Mystery? How can we learn to disconnect from all the technology that keeps us multi-tasking all day and all night? How can we rediscover awe in the world around us?
In the wonderful prose and poetry for which he is so well-loved, David Adam helps us get on the road of life, even when we don't have time to travel to distant lands.
|Publisher:||Church Publishing, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.22(w) x 7.84(h) x 0.51(d)|
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THE ROAD OF LIFE
Reflections on searching and longing
By DAVID ADAM, Monica Capoferri
Church Publishing IncorporatedCopyright © 2004 David Adam
All rights reserved.
The Lord is Here
It was a typical August day. It was noon and I had already taken three services and spoken to over sixty American visitors. The church was heaving with people. At this moment it felt more like a supermarket than a place of prayer. I just wanted to escape. At the back of the church sat a busload of Saga pilgrims, obviously a little tired. They were trying to eat their packed lunches without being noticed. In the south aisle a very intelligent man was standing by the facsimile of the Lindisfarne Gospels and proclaiming his wisdom. He was speaking in a stage whisper so that all could hear and acknowledge it. In the north aisle a group of children were sitting on the carpet and making merry sounds. Their chortling showed they were very happy to be where they were. There were at least 150 people just wandering around, most looking rather lost. There were three mums with buggies in the main aisle. (I am convinced that people with buggies – or supermarket trolleys – tend to display their genetic descent from Boudicca! Anyone who stands in the road is in danger of being mown down.) Someone stopped me and asked, 'Do you still have services in this church?' When I told him, 'At least three every day,' he refused to believe me, saying, 'No one goes to church that often.' I felt I had had enough for one morning. What can be done with such a madding crowd? With the excuse of lunch, it was time to escape this busy place.
Before I could get to the door, in strode a group of young people. They made straight for the front pews on either side of the main aisle. As there were about twenty of them, they almost filled four pews. After a deep bow to the east, they all knelt except one. This was a pretty young woman who stood with arms raised in prayer. Suddenly, the whole church was silent. The air began to tingle. There was some strange power at work. You could actually feel it. No one in the church dared to move. The children were the first to sense the change and became absolutely still and quiet. The loud speaker ceased from his lecture. The Saga pilgrims stopped eating their sandwiches and bowed their heads. All were being touched by something deep and mysterious. You could actually feel something with your whole being. There was a sense of expectancy in the air. We were waiting for something to happen. After a while, the young woman lowered her arms. The whole group then arose, made a bow and went out. They left a hushed building and people that were aware that something special had just taken place. How long the vibrant silence lasted I could only guess. It must have been at least two or three minutes.
Who were these young folk? What had made them come here and what were they doing in the church? I could not resist following them out and enquiring about their visit. Sadly, I should have been able to guess they were not English. In fact they could not speak English except for one young man. His sentences were slow and thoughtful. 'We are from Slovakia. As Christians, we have a new freedom. To celebrate our new liberty, we sought one of the holiest places we had heard of and came to give thanks to God. Our pilgrimage is one of thanksgiving.' Needless to say, I was deeply moved by the directness and simplicity of his statements. It was the next sentence that caused me much joy and amusement. 'I hope that we did not disturb anyone.' I could only take his hand and say, 'Thank you. I believe that you have disturbed us all by revealing the presence that is ever with us. God bless you all on your journey.'
I would never see these young people again but what they did that busy August day would remain with me for ever. Without words they had introduced our visitors to the holy and the mysterious. Their faith gave them a confidence, not in themselves but in their God. They rejoiced in his presence and helped others to be more aware of the God in their midst. I am sure they did not need to come to the Island to find God, they knew that God was with them. They did not come to proclaim God, yet their very lives and actions said, 'God is with us.'
Here was I, called to look after a holy place and I was ready to write it off for the day because of the crowds. Was I not in danger of excluding God from the fullness of life, from busyness and human encounter? This group of young folk said strongly, without words, 'God is here. His presence is with us.' They rejoiced in a presence that was part of their daily life. They were not seeking God on the Island, they were here to give thanks that God was with them in their joys and sorrows, in their captivity and in their new-found freedom. Yet some of the visitors to the church that day would remember how these young folk brought God to them. I am sure these young worshippers had no thought of being missionaries. They did not come to preach. Yet, their lives spoke far louder than words. They did not come to talk about God but they did introduce a whole group of people to a presence that day. In many ways these young folk reminded me of the early Celtic saints.
The Celtic saints were said to leave their homes peregrini pro Dei amore or peregrini pro Christi amore, that is, as 'pilgrims for the love of God' or 'pilgrims for the love of Christ'. This would distinguish them from those who were just wanderers, or in our terms tourists. The word peregrini means wanderers or travellers. Because of their different pattern to the stars, the planets were called 'wandering stars'. For these early Christian travellers it was not wanderlust or the desire to see new places that made them leave their homes and monasteries, it was the call and the love of God. In their journey along the road of life they sought the depth to their own existence and a closer awareness of the presence of God. They would have happily said the words of a modern writer:
God our pilgrimage impels,
To cross sea-waste or scale life-fells;
A further shore,
One hill brow more,
Draws on the feet, or arm-plied oars,
As our soul onward, upward soars.
(G. R. D. McLean, 1961, p. 55)
Pilgrimage is often not just a seeking of God but a response to his call. The journey is not only to find God, it is to travel in his presence and to journey deeper into the mystery and wonder of that presence and love. Every seeker is responding to a call to something higher and nobler, or to an emptiness that yearns to be filled. In fact emptiness and boredom are often a call for us to move on and to be changed. We all know there are greater meanings and depths to life and are challenged to come out of our safety and security. We need to recognize that our restlessness is often the call to look in new directions that we may discover the presence and love of God which is about us. How well we should heed the words of St Augustine of Hippo, 'Lord, our hearts are restless until they rest in you.'
Sometimes we have to move out beyond the safe and the secure to become more aware of the mystery of our world. Leaving the familiar and predictable for a while gives us a better chance of moving on in our lives. Dislocation can deepen our awareness. We take our wrists for granted but if we dislocate a wrist we realize just how important it is to us. Dislocation can make us appreciate our home and our way of life. The Celtic saints, by living as strangers in a strange land for Christ's sake, were able to deepen their awareness of the reality that they were citizens of another kingdom. By going away from home they discovered that they were Hospites mundi, 'Guests of the world'. This did not mean they did not belong to the world, or that they did not like the world. They often showed a great love for the world. But they acknowledged that, for them, it was a transitory place, a place of perpetual change that was only part of their life. They recognized that they were travellers on the road of life. For pilgrimage to be real it has to be a moving experience! The outer journey is a visible sign that we are being moved and changed in our inner being. More important than the place that we are travelling to is our attitude, our intention and the involvement of our heart.
I had a very holy site, the church on Holy Island, to look after and saw only bustle and crowds. A group of young people came and placed themselves before God! Without words they proclaimed the presence of God in our midst. I did not go for my lunch until I had returned to the church and said the words of Jacob, 'Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.'
There are two Irish sayings that I like: 'It is not by your feet alone you can come to God.' And, 'Your feet will bring you to where your heart is.' Travel for the sake of it can often help you to avoid being a pilgrim. To fill your eyes and your mind with new places and new experiences will not benefit you unless the heart is touched. Here is some advice from medieval Ireland to those that travel to Rome; you could change the destination to any place:
Going to Rome? Going to Rome?
It will bring much trouble, little gain.
Your long journey could be in vain.
The King you seek, will only appear
If in your heart you brought him here.
I have met 'pilgrims' who are wearied with their journey and long for the comfort and familiarity of home. One little Northern lad expressed it well, 'What's here? There's not even a chip shop!' Some are not at home anywhere and so pilgrimage often leaves them unchanged. I see pilgrims reflecting the feeling of Matthew Arnold in his poem 'The Grand Chartreuse',
Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
The other powerless to be born
With nowhere yet to rest my head.
One man reflected this when he asked if he could stay for our evening service. He said, 'I will sit right at the back, I do not want to be involved.' I could not say to him this was not possible. If he was not involved he could not possibly understand what we were doing. We were placing our hearts before our God. We were offering our whole being. The words might sound dull and boring to an outsider but for us this was a love affair. You cannot really understand a love affair if you have no involvement. Yet God is gracious; perhaps God would touch this man through our words and actions. If the heart is not involved in the journey it will benefit us little. I believe we have dual citizenship: we belong to two worlds and should enjoy them both. Too often Christians give the impression you should turn your back on this God-given world. God has created this world and loves it. If we despise the creation and reject it how can we learn to love the Creator? Take to heart the words of St Ignatius Loyola:
God freely created us so that we might know, love and serve him in this life and be happy with him for ever. God's purpose in creating us is to draw forth from us a response of love and service here on earth, so that we may obtain our goal of everlasting happiness with him in heaven.
All things in this world are gifts of God, created for us, to be the means by which we can come to know him better, love him more surely and serve him more faithfully. As a result, we ought to appreciate and use these gifts of God insofar as they help us towards our goal of loving service and union with God. But insofar as any created things hinder our progress toward our goal, we ought to let them go.
(The Spiritual Exercises, The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1978, p. 23)
In order that we may live well, we need to be sure of our relationship with this world and the next. The young folk who gave silent thanks to God did so for the new freedom that they had in this world. No doubt that freedom reflected their longing for the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Teilhard de Chardin outlines the dangers of a divided heart and mind if we do not love God and the world aright. He suggests that most Christians are in danger of becoming 'distorted, disgusted, or divided'. We become distorted when we deny our taste for the tangible world and make ourselves look at purely religious objects. To do this we need to banish so much of the beauty and splendour that is about us. In denying our natural love for the world we distort the truth about ourselves and our God. The disgusted decide that the world is too wonderful to deny and they turn their backs on God, like the man who went away sorrowing because he had too many riches. They seek to live thoroughly human lives without recourse to any higher being. Yet they know in themselves that there is more to this world and in themselves than they are acknowledging. To deny all mystery and wonder is to diminish ourselves and our horizons. The third group is the most common and that is the divided. They give up any attempt of making sense of the situation; they never belong wholly to God or wholly to things. Such people often live by double standards and are seen as insincere.
We can all experience this division in ourselves at times. There are many times in our lives when we are not wholly there, when we are not giving our attention or ourselves. To travel in body but not in spirit is to be a tourist but not a pilgrim. Yet even a tourist needs to be there; Annie Dillard says, 'Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will sense them. The least we can do is try to be there'. Sadly, divided people are rarely present wherever they are. To travel in body but not in heart cannot bring us peace or satisfaction. Though we must not forget that the love of God seeks to break in at all times. God offers himself to us whether we are aware of it or not.
Many of the Christians who want to go on pilgrimage have been detained for a while from their journey. Christians under obligation to work, state or family may not have the freedom of movement they would like. Lack of resources or courage can prevent the beginning of pilgrimage, at other times it can be direct opposition or an anti-Christian environment. Some may even be in prison. Then, like many that have gone before them, they have to make a pilgrimage of the heart. I often suggest to people that they become 'armchair pilgrims'. When we are detained in body we are still free at heart. One prisoner said to me, 'Though my body is in prison my heart is free.' We have a freedom that no one can take from us, we are God's people and he is with us. Nothing can separate us from God or his love. We need to learn to rest in that love wherever we are, to abide in him and know that he abides in us. Then we will know that God is with us wherever the road of life takes us.
I believe that we rarely discover that the world is a holy place until we have found one holy place. Once we find one holy place there is a chance for all to become holy. Sometimes we can choose a holy place and set our sights on going there one day. We can find out as much as we can about that place and its saints. We can have pictures and icons and films about it. If we do this we need to be aware of the danger of fantasy. It is better to discover that the place where you are is holy or at least has the potential for holiness. Let God enter your heart and the place where you are. If you feel that God is far off, remember feelings are liars. 'In him we live and move and have our being.' You are in the presence of God no matter where you are. You are in the heart of God and God seeks to dwell in your heart. Holiness comes with the territory, for the earth is the Lord's and all that is in it. You belong to God and in a wonderful way, God belongs to you.
There is a lovely legend telling of God after the Fall asking his angels where he should hide. Because man had hidden from God, God will now become hidden. A bright little angel said, 'Hide in the heaven.' 'O, no,' said God, 'for humans will always aspire to higher things and they will find me there.' A second glowing angel said, 'Well then, hide in the deep.' Again God replied, 'Human life is full of many depths and they will surely plumb the depths and find me.' The third angel had been biding his time and felt he was now on safe ground. 'Why not hide in the human heart?' God smiled at the angel and decided to do just that. God said, 'I will hide in the human heart and I am sure they will not ever seek me there.' If God is hidden from your sight, you can still find him in your heart. Learn what the Psalmist means when he makes God say, 'Be still, and know that I am God.' The young people from Slovakia travelled deeper into the heart of God while carrying God in their hearts.
Excerpted from THE ROAD OF LIFE by DAVID ADAM, Monica Capoferri. Copyright © 2004 David Adam. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
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Table of Contents
The Lord is Here
How Awesome is this Place
Practising the Presence
Jesus of the Jelly
Pilgrims with Three Legs
On Being Human
Life is a Celebration