Restless in Spring by Prasanta Verma

In a Midwest spring, the sky hangs low and gray, with muted sunshine. The grass transitions slowly to a bright green when the snow finally recedes.

April is a season of change, a transition from one extreme to another, in this part of the country. Winter winds blast us from the north, and drenching seasonal rains fall during this in-between time. While spring in the south is already dotted with lacy flowering trees, spring is still sprouting its legs in the colder Midwest.

I find the same is true for my life: it is constantly in the midst of one change or another. I discover something new emerging, changing, transitioning, growing, and dying—sometimes, all at once. There is always something to remember, and something to forget, something to cry about, something to laugh about, something buried, and something resurrected.

New tomato and lettuce seeds are sprouting in paper cups, sitting in front of a window. They can’t be transplanted outdoors until after Memorial Day, when a cold freeze won’t endanger the seedlings.

One of my kids will be headed to college, and I watch a different kind of growth and flourishing. I see an image of a branch with leaves and blossoms, and somehow I feel this represents my children. They are growing and branching away, soon to be off on their own, with hopes and future dreams tucked away and taking root.

I want to remember what is good and true and what is useful to remember, and forget what needs to be forgotten. I can’t seem to throw off memories as far as the east is from the west, though, but thankfully, God can take care of the parts that I can’t. Each day holds enough dirt of its own—the good and bad kind—soil which is nourishing and warm, and the dirt of something broken and shattered.

April tussles between winter and spring, a restless season, like a tug-of-war (do kids nowadays even know what tug-of-war is?) Perhaps it is just as well. It is another change.

I feel more changes coming on. I dig my heels deeper in the ground, cognizant of the soil around me. During this past year, with all the vagueness and uncertainty, I’ve experienced long stretches of restlessness.

“God, our hearts are restless ‘til they find their rest in you.” – Augustine

Where has my heart been? I know it is prone to wander. Perhaps this is part of the secret for restlessness?

Something new is growing. A new side of my voice, just as spring breaks forth unexpectedly out this frozen tundra. It was always there, this voice, but maybe it was the wrong season before, and maybe now the time has come.

Perhaps something new is growing in your life, too. Spring is like that—reminding of newness and sprouting hope where tears have fallen. It may sound trite and cliché, but I always look forward to learning this lesson anew each year. I need these reminders that Someone bigger than me is in charge of all that changes and all that stays the same. Hope blankets the world in a sea of green in this season, and it is exactly what my soul needs.

Let my teaching fall like rain
    and my words descend like dew,
like showers on new grass,
    like abundant rain on tender plants. – Deuteronomy 32:2

Photo credits: unsplash

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Prasanta Verma, a poet, writer, and artist, is a member of The Contemplative Writer team. Born under an Asian sun, raised in the Appalachian foothills, Prasanta currently lives in the Midwest, is a mom of three, and also coaches high school debate. You can find her on Twitter @VermaPrasanta, Instagram prasanta_v_writer, and at her website: https://pathoftreasure.wordpress.com/.

Jesus, Pilgrim of Pilgrims

In my new book, 3000 Miles to Jesus, I make the case that we are all pilgrims on the Jerusalem road. The book traces the journey of three pilgrims who made their way to the Holy Land in the 15th century. By following these travelers, we come to understand our biblical identity as strangers and sojourners on the earth.

I find it especially meaningful to think about pilgrimage during Lent and Holy Week, when, in our minds and hearts, we journey to Jerusalem as we ponder and pray through Jesus’ last days. You can read more about our Lenten pilgrimage in my recent Christianity Today article.  

But there’s another side of pilgrimage I haven’t talked much about.

Giotto, Jesus Entering Jerusalem, 1305

Did you know that Jesus himself was a pilgrim? On Palm Sunday, we commemorated Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But we don’t often ponder the lengthy that journey preceded this event. In fact, Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem was a pilgrimage, undertaken to celebrate Passover in the holy city. The Hebrew Bible instructs Jews to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover (and two other feasts as well). Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, traveled to Jerusalem every Passover (Luke 2:41–43), as did many others. The Jewish historian Josephus reports that during the Second Temple period, the number of Passover pilgrims totaled “not less than three millions.”

During his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Jesus uttered many of his well-known parables and teachings, including his teaching of the Lord’s Prayer to the disciples (Luke 11:-2–4). So, if you think about it, many of Jesus’ lessons are “pilgrimage lessons”– wisdom of the road.

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What was this final, momentous pilgrimage like? When he “resolutely set out for Jerusalem,” Jesus was in Capernaum. The shortest route led due south through Samaria. But because the Samaritans would not receive Jesus, he took a more roundabout way, going east through Peraea. Before leading to Jerusalem, this route crossed the Jordan River and passed through Jericho, Bethany, and Bethphage, where Jesus stayed at the house of Mary and Martha.

From Jericho to Jerusalem, this pilgrimage road leads through the Judean wilderness. It was probably only a day’s journey, but the route ascends about 4000 feet and is fairly rugged. I imagine it thronging with pilgrims who would then pour into Jerusalem and begin purification and preparation for Passover. Some of these pilgrims were surely among the “crowds” that Scripture mentions Jesus teaching along the way to Jerusalem.

In this final journey, Jesus models many of the traits we see in the medieval pilgrims I explore in my book. He had perseverance, taking a long route and enduring wilderness conditions. He traveled in poverty, frequently eating or staying at others’ homes (for example, Zacchaeus’s house and Mary and Martha’s house). And, despite the longer route and the time he took to teach along the way, he focused relentlessly on the goal of his pilgrimage. He resolutely “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).

But Jesus, of course, is far more than a model. His pilgrimage is bound up in our salvation. Before traveling to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled to earth and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14). Leaving his heavenly glory, he was a sojourner in ways that we will never be. His earthly journeys always had a bigger goal–that of showing us the way to the Father (John 14:2–6)–the way home. Nicholas T. Batzig says in an article on pilgrimage that “Jesus is the heavenly Sojourner, traveling through the foreign land of this fallen world to the eternal inheritance He came to possess by way of the cross.”

We love because Jesus first loved us. And we pilgrim because he first pilgrimed for us. I wish you a good journey during the next few days from the bright darkness of Holy Week to the light of resurrection.


“I Trust That I Can Soar”– An Excerpt from The Seeker and the Monk by Sophfronia Scott

Last week, author Sophfronia Scott released her new book, The Seeker and the Monk: Everyday Conversations with Thomas Merton. Scott mines Merton’s private journals for guidance about life and faith. I love the way she converses with Merton, asking him questions, giving him advice (from time to time), and learning from the monk’s faith and foibles.

Today, I’m featuring an excerpt from this book for our community. In the passage below, Scott describes how she began to pray the Daily Office in the Episcopal Church and, through it, learned to soar.

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Merton recognized his prayer life was often grounded—unable to take off, let alone soar. Though he had time alone in his hermitage, he found the quality of his prayers could still be disrupted by his own lack of focus. Just as any of us can be distracted during prayer and meditation, Merton no doubt had a lot on his mind—schemes for his next publication, communications from his friends, how much wood he needed to chop for his fire, whether the dermatitis he sometimes suffered from on his hands would ever heal.

It’s like his wing-flapping was woefully ineffective and he knew it: “I realize now how weak and confused I have become—most of the time I have simply played around and daydreamed and am sadly unequipped to take a real uprooting. Hence the need of prayer and thought and discipline and the self purification.”

How does one strengthen a prayer life? Maybe we can take a cue from professional athletes: quality practice. Just as they have to practice well to play well, if we cultivate a strong prayer life, we will be strong in prayer. It starts with the discipline of routine. Merton maintained the practice of praying the schedule of the Daily Office as he did in the monastery. He knew walking in the woods and being in solitude helped foster his communion with God, but he would still be subject to daydreams and distractions. In his routine, the discipline of reading his prayers aloud helped him stay on point: “Solitude—when you get saturated with silence and landscape, then you need an interior work, psalms, scripture, meditation.” Note that he’s talking about sacred text, not philosophy or theology. Reciting the Psalms was of particular importance to Merton. Among the belongings he left behind was a tattered copy of the Psalms in Latin, the pages so well thumbed that they are crumbling and the cover has separated from its binding.

I have to admit, for a long time I never understood the point of praying with prewritten prayers or of reciting Scripture to oneself alone in a room. Then, in 2011, I joined the Episcopal Church and learned about the Book of Common Prayer. The church defines the book as “a treasure chest full of devotional and teaching resources for individuals and congregations, but it is also the primary symbol of our unity.” Every day, churches and individuals around the world pray the same words from this book for Sunday services, baptisms, weddings, and funerals, in addition to a Daily Office of morning, afternoon, and evening prayers.

I decided to experiment with reciting Morning Prayer daily on my own, sitting on the cushions in front of a lit candle in the small meditation space I keep in a corner of my home office. As my practice went on from days to weeks and from weeks to months, I noticed something different about my thoughts, about the material my brain happened to access in any given moment. In the same way that a song might come to me that I can hum or sing, I now had words of prayer in my mind’s playlist. Instead of thinking, in a tough moment, “It’ll be OK,” I hear, “The Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his faithfulness endures from age to age.” Or I hear this, one of my favorites, when I’m getting ready for the day or to speak at an event: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.” I can’t tell you how comforting it is to feel these words, like an invisible security blanket wrapped around my being.

The apostle Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). I believe walking around with words of prayer imprinted within me is a way of doing that. And I understand why it’s important: Because the work of God is ongoing—creation is ongoing. I’m praying to figure out my role in that creation. A wonderful story that explains this well comes from the book The Shack and its film version. The story is about a man whose life and faith are shattered after the murder of his youngest child. He has an encounter with God during which he expresses his anger—really giving God what for—and demands to know why God doesn’t stop bad things from happening. God, embodied by the actress Octavia Spencer, explains she doesn’t make these things happen, nor does she stop them. But she is constantly working to make something of what has happened. She also wants us to know she is always here—especially when the horrific events happen. We are never alone.

Praying without ceasing reminds me of who I am and to whom I belong. And because I remember this, I can trust the air that upholds me when it’s time to glide. I trust that I can soar.


From The Seeker and the Monk: Everyday Conversations with Thomas Merton by Sophfronia Scott copyright © 2021 Broadleaf Books. Reproduced by permission.

The Feast of St. Patrick, by Prasanta Verma

Today, March 17, is the Feast Day of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. When I was growing up, and even as an adult, although I knew of the holiday, I hadn’t thought much about its origins. My only understanding was the holiday was Irish and celebrated a saint I knew nothing about. When my children were very young, one year in our history studies the curriculum suggested the idea of reading about this holiday and the life of St. Patrick. I went to the library and checked out a few books and read them to my children, amazed at the story, a story I had known nothing about. I didn’t grow up in a liturgical tradition, where perhaps these stories are more widely shared and well known.

St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain (which is now England, Scotland, or Wales) in the 5th century. When he was sixteen, Patrick was kidnapped and taken to Ireland to work as a slave. After six years, he escaped, but then returned. Some say his return was because he had a dream that the Irish asked him to come back to their country, and he saw the dream as a message from God. St. Patrick returned to Ireland and converted many Irish to Christianity. He died on March 17, 461, and by then had set up monasteries, churches, and schools. Legends surround him, such as he drove snakes out of Ireland and used a shamrock to explain the Trinity (which explains the use of the shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day).

The Irish have observed the Feast of St. Patrick since the 9th or 10th century. Falling during Lent, Irish families would attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Prohibitions during Lent were set aside for the day, allowing people to eat meat, dance, and feast.

Records show a St Patrick’s Day parade was held on March 17, 1601, in a Spanish colony in what is now St Augustine, FL. A hundred years later, homesick Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched in New York City on March 17, 1772 to honor St. Patrick. Enthusiasm grew and other cities joined in celebrating, too.

Today, cities hold St. Patrick’s day parades all over America, with cities such as New York and Boston hosting large celebrations. The New York City St. Patrick’s Day is the largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the world, attracting over 2 million people, and the parade is older than the country of the U.S. itself.

Chicago began dyeing the Chicago River green since 1962 in honor of the day. Originally, city officials released 100 pounds of green vegetable dye in the river, keeping it green for a week. Today, they use only 40 pounds of dye, turning the river green for only a few hours. People all around the world celebrate the St. Patrick Feast Day, including Canada, Australia, Japan, Singapore, and Russia.

In Ireland, St Patrick’s day had been viewed mostly as a religious observance, and up until the 1960s, they had laws that forbid bars from being open that day. In 1903, St. Patrick’s day switched from being a holy day for Catholics to an official Irish public holiday. Pubs were closed for the day until the 1970s. Ireland embraced the celebratory side of St. Patrick’s Feast in the 90’s to bring tourist revenue in the country.

Now, the celebration is largely a cultural and secular event and celebration of Irish culture.

People eat foods include corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread, and champ (an Irish dish made of creamy mashed potatoes and scallions). In 1798, the year of the Irish Rebellion, the color green became associated with St Patrick’s Day. In the U.S., people wear green, but interestingly, the original color associated with St Patrick was blue. St Patrick’s Day is always on March 17.

St. Patrick’s real name is Maewyn Succat. Patrick means “Patricius” or “Patrick” from the Latin word for “father figure.” It is interesting how far our knowledge of the origins of our holidays has veered from their actual beginnings. Now, when I celebrate, as I make Irish soda bread on this day, I recall the story of a young man who did the unthinkable, going back to his captors, following a call to share good news with those who had enslaved him.

Below is a prayer attributed to St. Patrick.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Sources:
https://www.britannica.com/topic/Saint-Patricks-Day

https://www.insider.com/the-history-behind-st-patricks-day-2020-2#the-first-new-york-city-parade-in-honor-of-st-patricks-day-took-place-in-1762-5

https://www.history.com/topics/st-patricks-day/history-of-st-patricks-day

https://www.beliefnet.com/prayers/catholic/morning/the-prayer-of-st-patrick.aspx

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Prasanta Verma, a poet, writer, and artist, is a member of The Contemplative Writer team. Born under an Asian sun, raised in the Appalachian foothills, Prasanta currently lives in the Midwest, is a mom of three, and also coaches high school debate. You can find her on Twitter @VermaPrasanta, Instagram prasanta_v_writer, and at her website: https://pathoftreasure.wordpress.com/.

Late Bloomer

I’ve always been a late bloomer.

I was late to have children (15 years after getting married).

Late to understand I was on the wrong career path.

Late to publish my first book (well after age 40).

Late to publish my second book (6 years after the first one).

Late to understand key things about myself that are necessary for me to function and thrive.

Late to have heart knowledge (not just head knowledge) of God’s love and healing power.

With Saint Augustine, I cry out, “Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!”

It’s a source of grief that knowledge of self and knowledge of God (insofar as this is possible) have come to me so late. I wish I were ten or even twenty years younger so that I’d have more time to live with these insights. More time to right wrongs. More time to live better. Wiser. Freer.

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The Bible is full of late bloomers: Sarah and Abraham, Enoch, “Doubting” Thomas . . . all of these figures took a longer than average time (compared to others) to grow into what God had in store for them.

For me, the ultimate late bloomer is the thief crucified with Jesus, the one who addressed Jesus on the cross, saying, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). It’s usually assumed that this thief had a conversion, believing in Jesus just moments before his death. By tradition, he’s often referred to as the “good thief.”

The Crucifixion, Flemish, ca. 1525, Metropolitan Museum of Art

When we lived in Belgium, my husband and I attended an international church. One of our friends, a young woman from Uganda, wanted to get baptized but couldn’t (just yet) because of possible reprisal from her father, who did not want her to embrace the Christian faith. Her father was powerful, and our church counseled her to wait. Despite our reassurances, she could not be consoled. “Scripture says to ‘repent and be baptized,’” she kept saying. “I have to get baptized.”

Finally, during one of our conversations, I happened to mention the “good thief” and what his story means. Without benefit of baptism—or any action at all—this man pleased Jesus. Within the span of one day, he came to belief and received the promise of Paradise. This story seemed to give our friend a bit of peace.

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Can I find some peace in it, too?

The good thief saw the truth at the last possible moment. Or perhaps he saw it at exactly the right moment. Of Jesus and the two criminals, theologian Karl Barth said, “Don’t be too surprised if I tell you that this was the first Christian fellowship, the first certain, indissoluble and indestructible Christian community” (Deliverance to the Captives). And now this thief, this late bloomer, ministers to us, telling us what it means to be a Christian. Maybe even telling us more clearly than any of Jesus’ disciples or long-time companions.

In the end, I suppose there are worse people to resemble than the good thief – someone whose timeline Jesus honored, someone who grasped the truth when it was most needful for him to do so. Imagining myself in his company, I think on my life and conclude, maybe I’m late – or maybe I’m right on time.


Water of Life, Water of Change

This week, I wanted to share with you an essay I wrote that was published in Plough Magazine on Monday. I wrote the essay to express the frustration I/we often feel in this time of Covid and the inbetweenness that marks our life during the pandemic, during Lent . . . and during our time on earth. I hope you enjoy it!

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Last fall, during one of the many pandemic surges in our area, my two daughters and I took a day trip to Grandfather Mountain State Park. We came across a small river, whose name I no longer recall. My city girls will use any excuse to stop hiking, so I let them pause at the water’s edge and remember what it’s like to play, free and unencumbered. It would have been better to keep walking though; I’d forgotten that standing still gives me too much time to think. Watching my girls on the riverbank, tossing stones and exploring the ecosystem, I ached for them. I ached for the season they are living through, the upheaval and the fear and the isolation. As my daughters played and I mused, the river flowed on, like a timeline I wished I could travel to a better place.

If I followed the river many eons back, perhaps I would encounter the earth’s mother river, the one that fed the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:10). There wouldn’t be any aching along those banks, surely . . .

Please continue reading this essay over at Plough!


What a Plague and a Pandemic Have in Common: by Prasanta Verma

In the book of Joel, a devastating event occurs, something which will be retold to subsequent generations:

Has anything like this happened  in your days, or even in the days of your fathers? Tell your children about it, Let your children tell their children, and their children another generation. Joel 1: 2-3

What sort of calamity could this be, what sort of story so incredulous that it could be recounted to future generations? It was a plague of locusts.

Can you imagine looking up and seeing the sky turn dark as millions of these insects descended upon the land you occupied? These insects are described as “chewing, swarming, crawling, and consuming” locusts. The scripture says that the fig tree branches were stripped white. The result of the plague was utter loss and devastation. The people of this agricultural society had lost everything– their crops, grass for their animals, their livelihood. Nothing green was left. They looked upon a barren wasteland.

Did you know there are 80 different kinds of locusts?  They belong to the grasshopper family. A typical swarm can be 30 miles long and 5 miles wide, and even today, swarms affect Australia and Africa.

After facing the devastation of such a loss, we can wonder how those in Judah felt. Their dreams were shattered. Their hopes gnawed away by the locusts. What would become of them now? Their dreams and hopes of the future? How would they survive?

My Bible commentary suggests that Joash could have been the king at the time. While it’s not certain, it is possible. Joash was crowned king at the tender age of 7. Humor me for a moment, as we ponder what a seven-year-old king might be thinking while watching a swarm of locusts descend upon the land.

If Joash were like any current day typical seven-year-old boy, he may have tried to catch a few of the insects himself and put them in a place where he could observe them for a while. Or, perhaps young Joash, after the initial  excitement, may have been affected by the horror-stricken faces of the adults around him, and also succumbed to fear, helplessness, and disbelief. One thing is certain: a plague of locusts (or other natural disaster) is beyond the power and control of any earthly king, no matter his age.

But not for an omnipotent God. He had an answer for them. He didn’t leave them destitute, alone, holding fistfuls of dirt in their hands. He gave them a promise:

So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten… Joel 2:25

“I will restore to you the years.” What a beautiful promise, from the only One who can even make such a claim and fulfill it. God’s promise to the people of Judah was that he would “restore the years”! That promise is magnificent to comprehend. Who, except God, can even restore time?

You see, today, we face a different breed of locust. We face broken marriages, sudden death, disease, financial ruin, chronic pain, depression, job loss, addiction, plus the losses brought about because of the pandemic. And, the list can go on.

Yet consider that the promise to us is the same as it was to the people in Joel’s day: “God will restore the years the locusts have eaten.” God says,

Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and new oil, and you will be satisfied with them. –  Joel 2:19

God comforts and reassures the people facing the loss produced by the locust plague, promising to send them new grain and wine, and to “restore to them the years”. The loss was devastating and the promise itself is equally as astounding. Can you imagine the hope of the people of Judah, upon hearing such a promise? We have such promises, too, such as:

 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30

I don’t know about you, but these promises give me hope. Hope I need to hear. While the locusts may have eaten away, God can restore what the locusts have taken. God can take the loss, even produced by a pandemic, and transform it into something new – into a garden of plenty, a place where hope and joy bloom in full glory, a place where others can come and find encouragement and hope as well. He restores us and promises to give us rest. On this Ash Wednesday, we find rest for our souls, and promises of restoration, even in the midst of snowstorms, personal losses, and a pandemic.

(this post is edited from the archives of prasantaverma.com)


Prasanta Verma, a poet, writer, and artist, is a member of The Contemplative Writer team. Born under an Asian sun, raised in the Appalachian foothills, Prasanta currently lives in the Midwest, is a mom of three, and also coaches high school debate. You can find her on Twitter @VermaPrasanta, Instagram prasanta_v_writer, and at her website: https://pathoftreasure.wordpress.com/.

How to Recognize a Pilgrim

Last week at the gas station, a man I didn’t know approached me at the pump and asked me if I could give him some change to help him fill up his car. “I’m running short on money this week,” he said.

At first I said no. I was startled… strangers don’t usually approach me at the gas pump. And I thought all the thoughts that often go through our mind in these situations. What if he’s not a good person? What will he really do with the money?

But then, as the fuel pumped into my car, the truth pumped into me. My response to this man wasn’t right. Maybe I didn’t know who he was, but I knew what he was. He was a pilgrim.

The Wife of Bath from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, ca. 1405

We might think of pilgrims as people from another time with a penchant for funny hats (I write about some of these people in my new book). Or perhaps as folks with backpacks walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Yet these images we have—that I have—can blind us to the fact that not all pilgrims are distant historical figures or travelers on faraway paths. Sometimes, they’re people like you and me; people on life’s journey who can’t make it alone.

In simple terms —

Pilgrims are strangers — That person you just met or who just asked you for help may be unknown to you, but their very “strangeness” makes them a pilgrim. In Roman times, a peregrinus, the Latin word from which we get “pilgrim,” was someone “not from these parts.” It was a legal term. The Bible teaches that Christians are pilgrims because we’re not from these parts, either. (Heb 11:13) We don’t belong to the world and its ways. We’re all strangers here.

Pilgrims are travelers — In the Middle Ages, peregrinus morphed to mean someone on a journey, usually one of sacred import. Have you encountered any travelers lately? Maybe someone fueling up at the pump next to yours? Or someone on a difficult path through life? Every person is on his way somewhere—or trying to be, if he gets a tank of gas.

Pilgrims are needy — Historically, pilgrims often traveled in desperate circumstances. Medieval pilgrims frequently were ill or were atoning for sin or crimes. Many arrived at their destination completely broke, relying on others to help them and even to keep them alive. That day at the gas station, I was charged to help a pilgrim in need. The next time, it might be me who needs help.

Although I hesitated at first, I walked over to the pilgrim after filling my tank. He was standing beside his car and running his fingers through his hair in a gesture of utter despair (he must have coasted in on fumes). I did what I could for him. It wasn’t much because I didn’t have much to give. But then another man walked over and also gave some money. I hope that enabled the pilgrim to get further down the road.

Having studied pilgrimage for so long, I’m chastened that I had to remind myself to help. What I needed, and what I got, was a lesson that brought my studies down to earth. Pilgrimage teaches us about our biblical identity as people on our way to the heavenly country. In practical terms, it means that we welcome the stranger and help one another on our long journey home. We are all pilgrims, and we need each other. No one walks – er, drives – alone.


The 7 Habits of Highly Inefficient Writers

I’m always hooked by articles about becoming a more efficient writer. Most of them don’t disappoint: they’re full of good practical tips – for example, stay focused, avoid negative self-talk, find your best time of day to work, and so on.

The other day, while thinking about this issue, I looked up the word “efficient” and read the following definition: maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort. I have to say that it made me shudder. It made me think I don’t want to be an efficient writer after all.

The fact is, I am not productive to the max in the sense of being prolific. I’m not able to churn out books and articles one after the other, no matter how often I write at my best time of day. It takes time for my ideas to steep, like tea leaves having a long soak to produce the richest flavor. Sometimes, I put a piece of writing aside for a while. I daydream a lot. I rest.

Here’s a confession: I just released a book, and I don’t have a new book proposal ready to go out. I don’t even have one in the works. I feel like I should, but I just don’t. I need a little time to lie fallow.

Photo by Keira Burton on Pexels.com

But in the end, I’m not too bothered by this because I believe that steeping and daydreaming and waiting are key parts of the writing process. I’m going to go a step further and say that I’m being productive when I engage in these activities. Simply put, they help me produce. My writing will not go where I want it to go without them.

A few years ago, author Leslie Leyland Fields wrote a post entitled “The Slow-Writing Revolt.” Her words resonate with my thoughts about efficiency (or the lack thereof). She encourages writers to “slow down. M a r i n a t e. Wait. Sometimes even—stop. Sometimes even—say No.” Leyland Fields calls it “marinating” while I call it “steeping,” but the idea is the same. It takes time for the good stuff to come.

I recently talked with Jonathan Rogers of The Habit podcast, and during our conversation he said something very interesting: Being too efficient can stifle creativity. Going straight for that one source you’ve pinpointed for your project means that you may miss other sources and ideas along the way. One of the best ways to aid new discoveries is wandering the stacks in a library. I did this many times during my graduate studies at the University of Chicago. On my way to a particular book, I took the time to let my eye wander over nearby book titles and discovered valuable information I wouldn’t have found any other way. It was time consuming but completely worth it.

Fellow writers, be encouraged that inefficiency is a virtue. Steeping and daydreaming and resting are legitimate parts of the writing process. Even if words aren’t flowing from the pen (or marching across the computer screen), things are likely happening behind the scenes, in your heart and mind.

A couple caveats:

  • Please note that I’m distinguishing steeping from procrastination. They are very different things. Don’t procrastinate—even though I do it all the time.
  • I understand that the need for a paycheck may complicate my arguments. Sometimes a writer may have to be efficient to put bread on the table. But I still think all writers should take time to daydream and wander through their mind palaces.

I summarized my points in this list – The 7 Habits of Highly Inefficient Writers

  1. Steep (your ideas) – let them develop a rich flavor
  2. Wait – it’s ok to put your project aside for a better time
  3. Daydream – get lost in your mind palace and dream up new ideas for your writing
  4. Rest – fill the well by taking time off when you need it
  5. Wander (the library stacks) – see what you discover by exploring with no particular goal in mind
  6. Say no – feel free to decline a writing project if it’s not the right one or the right time
  7. Live life – writing is intertwined with life, so don’t hesitate to enjoy your friends and loved ones, laugh, and be fully engaged in all the pleasures and responsibilities of daily life

Write on — inefficiently. Creatively. And well.


By the Garden Gate: A Journey with Robert Campin

My book on pilgrimage releases next week! And because I have pilgrimage on the brain, I wanted to share an article I wrote a few years ago for Epikeia Magazine. The article shows how pilgrimage can become an intensely personal journey to the heart of our faith. I hope it opens the gate to a journey of your own.

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A few years ago, in New York for a conference, I made a pilgrimage to The Cloisters museum and gardens. I use the term “pilgrimage” advisedly. Like a medieval traveler going to a shrine, I went to see a sacred object—the painting known as the Merode Altarpiece by Flemish artist Robert Campin. From Midtown, the Cloisters was enough out of the way to make the journey a little difficult, the gratification a bit delayed. The museum’s medieval setting enhanced my sense of sacred purpose.

Once at the Cloisters, I discovered that Campin’s painting has its own gallery, called the Merode Room. I made straight for it. At the time of my visit, the altarpiece hung above a medieval bench opposite the gallery entrance. By some miracle, the room was empty. The painting beckoned me forward, and I walked toward it as to an altar…

Please head over to Epikeia to continue reading!