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.


A Prayer for Holy Week: Caryll Houselander

A prayer for Holy Week from Caryll Houselander (1901-1954), an English Catholic mystic, poet, and author:

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By Your heaviness and fear
in Gethsemane,
comfort the oppressed
and those who are afraid.

By Your loneliness,
facing the Passion
while the Apostles slept,
comfort those who face evil alone
while the world sleeps.

By Your persistent prayer,
in anguish of anticipation,
strengthen those
who shrink from the unknown.

By Your humility,
taking the comfort of angels,
give us grace to help
and to be helped by one another,
and in one another
to comfort You, Jesus Christ.
Amen.

Source


FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to Friday Favorites! Here at The Contemplative Writer, we love rounding up posts, articles, poetry, and podcasts from wonderful writers around the web. We hope you enjoy our selection this week.

Be well and be blessed,

Lisa and Prasanta

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“The Poet Thinks About the Donkey,” by Mary Oliver via SALT (a poem for Palm Sunday)

Meditation Monday–The Garden Walk of Holy Week via Christine Sine (Jesus’ journey from garden to garden)

The Grand Positives via Coe Hutchison (a journaling exercise based on the Ten Commandments)

You’ve Got Our Ear via Marjorie Maddox (a poem for the Age of Anxiety)

Archiving Lament via The Visual Commentary on Scripture (artworks and commentary based on Lamentations 1)

“Art + Faith: A Theology of Making” Book Review via Melanie Weldon-Soiset (a review of Makoto Fujimura’s recent book)


“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.

Lenten Prayer: Rachel Marie Stone

This week, we’re praying a prayer written by contemporary author Rachel Marie Stone. It looks ahead to the washing of the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper.

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Lord God,
You sent your Son into the world,
And before his hour had come,
He washed his disciples’ feet.
You had given all things into his hands.
He had come from you, and was going to you,
And what did he do?
He knelt down on the floor,
And washed his friends’ feet.
He was their teacher and their Lord,
Yet he washed their feet.
Lord God, help us learn from his example;
Help us to do as he has done for us.
The world will know we are his disciples
If we love one another.
Strengthen our hands and our wills for love
And for service.
Keep before our eyes the image of your Son,
Who, being God, became a Servant for our sake.
All glory be to him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and forever.
Amen.

Source


FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to Friday Favorites! We hope you enjoy this round-up of posts that will help you pray, praise, flourish, and write.

Blessings,

Lisa and Prasanta

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A Simple Prayer Marking One Year of Pandemic Life, for All Ages via Traci Smith (a unison and responsive prayer)

Praise on Pi Day via Lisa Rosenberg (a poem)

How Prayer Can Prepare Us For Death via Kara Bettis (an interview with Douglas McKelvey, author of the Every Moment Holy liturgies)

Flourishing Together: When Racism Affects Us All via Dorina Lazo Gilmore-Young (“Let’s walk together and treat each person like an image bearer of God to be treasured”)

How 2020 Disruptions Have Led to Relational Innovations via Dorothy Littell Greco (how some people are creating something new during the pandemic)

Prompts To Get You Writing via April Yamasaki (some questions and reflection prompts to get your creativity flowing)


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/.

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to Friday Favorites! We hope the posts collected here will enrich your Lenten journey and inspire you in your writing/creative life!

Blessings,

Lisa and Prasanta

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The Power of the Cross via Classically Christian (a meditation on 1 Cor. 1:18-19 and some wonderful quotes from women mystics on the cross of Christ)

Juan de Yepes via Roger Butts (a short poem about St. John of the Cross, when he was released from jail)

I want to talk to Thomas Merton about race via Sophfronia Scott (“I don’t want to be a rigid flame of indignation. I don’t want my life weighed down by anger, hopelessness, and resentment.”)

Intention can turn any lockdown walk into pilgrimage, urges British Pilgrimage Trust via Emily McFarlan Miller (ideas for taking a micro-pilgrimage or a spiritual pilgrimage during lockdown)

A Tale of a Fox and a Novel: On Taking the Leap and Submitting Your Writing via Nicole Bianchi (“Resistance loves it when we hesitate, when we over-prepare. The answer: plunge in.”)

Blogging Versus Email Newsletters: Which Is Better for Writers? via Jane Friedman (the pros and cons of each approach and how to figure out which might be better for you)


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.


Lenten Prayer: St. Ephrem the Syrian

This week’s prayer comes from St. Ephrem the Syrian (c. 306 – 373), an Eastern Christian theologian and Doctor of the Church.

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O Lord and Master of my life!

Take from me the spirit of sloth,
faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity,
humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

Yea, Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother,
for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

Source