FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to Friday Favorites! We’re happy to bring you these links by some wonderful writers and thinkers and hope they’ll add beauty and encouragement to your day.

Love and blessings,

Lisa and Prasanta

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“Tripping Over Joy” via Daniel Ladinsky (a poem)

Considering the Trees on Ash Wednesday via Isaac S. Villegas (an essay to help us prepare for Ash Wednesday)

The Gate of Heaven Is Everywhere via Fred Bahnson (is this what’s missing from contemporary American Christianity?)

Art + Faith: A Theology of Making, with Makoto Fujimura via The Trinity Forum (a conversation on the theology of the act of creating)

Calvin: Refugee and Pilgrim via Randy Blacketer (learn about the theology of pilgrimage via the life and writings of John Calvin)

7 Letters from Famous Authors Sharing Fantastic Writing Advice via Nicole Bianchi (find inspiration from these authors)


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.


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!

Pilgrimage As a Way of Life: A Post by Prasanta Verma

This week’s post, by Prasanta Verma, is a review of my new book that’s releasing on Feb. 2. Enjoy this sneak preview; I’m grateful to Prasanta for writing it!

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Have you ever been on a pilgrimage? I must say I have not, at least, not a “deliberate” journey of such. I visited some beautiful cathedrals in Europe while in college, but they were not part of an intentional pilgrimage. What a different view I would have now, with some years of experience and growth behind me!

I just finished reading 3000 Miles to Jesus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life for Spiritual Seekers by Lisa Deam, and this book is expanding my view of our spiritual journey in this life. I most often thought of pilgrimage as a physical journey with a destination, and indeed, I am contemplating what such a journey might entail for me at some point in my life. But, as the title suggests, our spiritual journey can be a pilgrimage, too, and “a way of life.”

The early pilgrims that Lisa writes of, like Margery Kempe, Felix Fabri, and Pietro Casola (and indeed many others in their day), faced much hardship on their journeys to Jerusalem, encountering long delays, setbacks, illness, and even death. One did not embark on such a journey expecting to return roundtrip in a week; rather, those who left could be gone for many months, a year or longer, crossing mountain and sea, journeying on foot, donkey, or boat.

One of the more striking passages for me is this one:

“Saint Augustine paints a picture of someone a little like me in his Homilies on the Gospel of John. Imagine a person trying to cross the sea to reach home, Augustine says. This person spots her destination from afar; she longs to reach it. In fact, all of us have this longing, for in our home country, the One we love awaits. But how will the pilgrim get there? How will she survive the turbulent waters? How will any of us?…


“These words bring us to one of the great paradoxes of pilgrimage. On our journey, our every step and every water crossing takes us slowly but inevitably to the heavenly Jerusalem. Yet as we make this pilgrimage to God, we also make it with God. We are not left to find our way alone, for God is at once our destination and our means of reaching it. I never tire of sifting this beautiful paradox through my mind. For those on the spiritual journey, it is a comfort to ponder the mystery that the God to whom we travel is in the boat with us—perhaps is even the boat itself.”

How often on our spiritual lives, too, are we ridden with the toils of the journey and the long road, and forget that God himself journeys with us? Along each dark valley, rocky ascent, and slippery terrain, He is the companion who walks with a steady foot, a calming voice, and an assuring presence. We are not alone. He is in the boat with us as we face turbulent waters. He is walking with us in unknown valleys. We have a guide, a footpath, a railing, a leading hand—on the pilgrimage to Him, we walk with Him. What a beautiful thought and image that Lisa brings to life for us in her pages.

As we battle the difficulties and challenges of this life, however, there is yet even another enemy we must consider. Lisa writes, “For spiritual pilgrims, the greatest foes are the infidels of our own heart.”

Ouch. Let that one sink in deep. The truth of this one convicts me. Just thinking through all the challenges of life, we are also battling ourselves, and this might be the worst foe of all. Our spiritual baggage, our past, our pains, our wounds, our bruises, our rights, our justifications, our pride, our selfishness…we carry all these on our journey, weighing down our sacks, adding to the burden, and impeding our progress as much as any other obstacle. We must face the truth—and the hurdle—of ourselves.

While looking through the lens of pilgrimage to holy places, thinking of our spirituality as a pilgrimage and a way of life is a refreshing view. I am grateful.


*I paid for and pre-ordered the book, requested to join the launch team, and received an advance copy to read. This post is not being solicited by the launch team or book publishers, and I am writing my own thoughts and opinions out of my own personal experience.

A BLESSING FOR EPIPHANY

The Feast of Epiphany is Wednesday, January 6. Epiphany celebrates the revelation of Christ to the world, as epitomized by the visit of the Magi. This week, we have a blessing for Epiphany.

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God has called you out of darkness,
into his wonderful light.
May you experience his kindness and blessings,
and be strong in faith, in hope, and in love.

Because you are followers of Christ,
who appeared on this day as a light shining in darkness,
may he make you a light to all your sisters and brothers.

The wise men followed the star,
and found Christ who is light from light.
May you too find the Lord
when your pilgrimage is ended.

Source


Inner Pilgrimage in a Time of Pandemic

This week I wanted to share with you a guest post I wrote for Abbey of the Arts. In it, I reflect on inner pilgrimage during a time of pandemic, especially during Advent and Christmas. I hope you enjoy!

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Thanks to the pandemic, we’ve all become a little monkish, whether we want to or not. I’ll admit that the recent months of isolation haven’t always felt very sacred to me. As I continue to restrict my movements out of extra caution, I’ve deeply missed the ordinary activities of daily life, such as gathering with friends and writing in coffee shops. And I mourn the loss of larger opportunities. For example, a friend invited me to join a pilgrimage . . . just before the pandemic began.

Wrestling with the “new normal” of pandemic life, I’ve found it worthwhile to read the Christian mystics, many of whom did not travel because they were enclosed monks, nuns, or anchorites. Perhaps because they accepted a life of voluntary restriction, they understood that journeys do not always involve footsteps. These mystics are good companions as we sit on our sofas and dream of roads not taken. . . .

Please head on over to the Abbey of the Arts to read the rest of this post!


From Exile to Pilgrim: A Christmas Story

Thanks be to God, through whom our consolation overflows
in this pilgrimage, in this exile, in this distress.

This is one of my favorite quotations from the history of the Church, uttered by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), a Cistercian monk, abbot, and theologian. I love it because it touches on one of my favorite themes, pilgrimage. I recently discovered that the quotation comes from St. Bernard’s Sermons on Advent and Christmas. I’m excited because one of my favorite sentiments turns out to be part of the Christmas story!

The quote is about more than pilgrimage. Here and elsewhere, Bernard places heavy emphasis on the theme of exile. Throughout his sermons he often uses the word “exile” to refer to our sojourn on this earth. As exiles, we are wanderers who do not have a true home. We walk a hard road, filled with suffering. We are in distress.

But then. Then! Bernard precedes the sentence quoted above with this statement: “The kindness and humanity of God our Savior appeared.” In the person of Jesus, God appeared at Christmas (and was made known at the Epiphany). And this changed everything. Through his humanity, Jesus joined us in our exile. Bernard says:

He Who is glorious and transcendent in His own city, and beatifies its citizens by His presence, became little and humble, when in exile, that He might rejoice the exiles.

This is why Bernard says, “Thanks be to God!” At Christmas, Jesus came to us in our exile. To rejoice us and give us consolation.

And because Jesus came, our earthly journey has a different flavor: our exile has turned into a pilgrimage. A pilgrim, as opposed to an exile, knows where to point her feet. She does not wander aimlessly and dejectedly but has a destination. She’s headed home, and so she is filled with hope. Many of us travel home for the holidays (or at least we did before the pandemic) or take refuge in our family and our home. In a similar way, every step in our Christian life leads toward a home that is the biggest refuge of all. When we get there, we’ll be welcomed with warmth and a meal and rest for our weary feet.

This isn’t some sappy sentiment meant to minimize our current distress. Goodness, our poor world seems to know nothing BUT distress these days. Our road can be bitter and our suffering great. Yet we now walk this road with hope because Jesus points the way home – and walks home with us.

This Advent and Christmas, we point our feet first to Bethlehem to welcome this child born to show us the way. And then we begin walking home. But not alone. Thanks be to God! This Christmas, Jesus has joined us on our long journey.

May God rejoice you on your pilgrimage this year.


Friends . . . if you’re interested in exploring the themes of exile and pilgrimage as they relate to our journey of faith, I hope you’ll check out my book that’s releasing on Feb. 2: 3000 Miles to Jesus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life for Spiritual Seekers. It’s all about the hope we have as spiritual pilgrims. You can head over to my website to see more info and to preorder. Thank you and blessings – Lisa

Swimming with God

Imagine something with me. You’re in a ship in a raging sea, going somewhere important. Perhaps going on a pilgrimage. But it’s beginning to look like you’re not going to make it. The ship dips and lists. The sea is alive – a force against you. You pray to God to save you from destruction.

Doesn’t our faith often feel like this? Like we’re being tossed around by untamable wind and waves? Medieval theologians often compared the world to the sea. “All the ways of this world are as fickle and unstable as a sudden storm at sea,” wrote the Venerable Bede in the 8th century. And every soul must cross this sea on the journey through life.

So what do we do? Usually we respond with alternating displays of strength and alarm. We try to build a stronger ship. Bone up on our sailing skills. Lay in resources. And when the storm comes, we cry out to Jesus to pilot our ship.

Now imagine that the worst happens. Despite everything you’ve done, your ship capsizes . . . you fall into the water. And it becomes calm, buoyant. You realize that you’re floating. Swimming. Drinking water yet not drowning.

How is this possible?

Perhaps because we’ve got it wrong. Perhaps Jesus does not pilot us through the sea but is the sea. Perhaps this is the way we make it through the waves.

Two female mystics of the Middle Ages paint this picture of our journey. The 14th-century Dominican Catherine of Siena prays:

Eternal Godhead!
I proclaim and do not deny it:
you are a peaceful sea
in which the soul feeds and is nourished
as she rests in you in love’s affection and union
by conforming her will with your high eternal will—
that will which wants nothing other than that we be made holy.

(source)

In this prayer, the sea becomes a figure of God’s gracious abundance. The soul does not have to survive the water in a ship. Instead, God is the water. He envelops us, and we rest in him.

We might even go for a swim in this sea. The 13th-century mystic Marguerite d’Oingt writes of a vision of unity she received:

The saints will be within their Creator as the fish within the sea: they will drink as much as they want, without getting tired and without diminishing the amount of water. The saints will be just like that, for they will drink and eat the great sweetness of God.

(source)

Marguerite envisions the sea as a source of living water that never runs out (John 4:10-14). It’s a source of nourishment, where the saints (that’s you and me!) taste the sweetness of God.

I love this imagery for the way it rewrites the usual script about the sea of life. In the words of Catherine of Siena and Marguerite d’Oingt, the sea does not inspire terror but represents the incredible generosity of God. It’s a way to conceive of being fully enveloped in God’s goodness. And it’s an image of peace and rest.

As we ply the waters of life, let us remember the vastness of God who, like the sea, is everywhere. Let us be assured that if our ship capsizes, we will not perish. Should we be tossed overboard, we can swim like fish in the sea that is God.

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This post is loosely based on one chapter from my forthcoming book, 3000 Miles to Jesus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life for Spiritual Seekers. It’s a sneak peak behind the scenes, because it contains a lot of material that didn’t make it into the book! Click here (my author website) for more info on 3000 Miles to Jesus.

On Turning in a Book

As some of you may know, I’m writing a book on medieval pilgrimage. It features mystics like Margery Kempe and Walter Hilton and lots of pilgrims, both known and unknown, who journeyed to Jerusalem in the Middle Ages. From these pilgrims, we can learn about our own journey of faith today.

I have some news about said book. A few days ago, I turned in the manuscript to my editor.

I feel all the things a writer usually feels. For example, elation. I did it! I just completed 40,000 polished words! And anxiety. Will my editor like it? What revisions will she want me to do?

But I did not expect to feel . . . grief. I miss the project that has been so much a part of my life the past ten or so months. I miss working with such wonderful historical material: researching it, shaping it, seeing it come together, finding the words to make it sing. I even miss the less glamorous aspects: looking up niggling details, double-checking facts, formatting endnotes. I miss the way this writing project weighed on my mind. I miss sweating bullets and wondering whether I’d be able to pull it off. I miss waking up on mornings when I had a whole glorious day to do nothing but work on this book.

I really did not want to turn in my manuscript. Which is why I held onto it and tinkered with it for about two months longer than I should have (don’t tell my editor).

pilgrims cross alps
Pilgrims cross the Alps in the prayer book of Bishop Leonhard von Laymingen of Passau, Walters Manuscript W.163, fol. 1v

I miss my project because, for me, writing is perhaps my purest expression of faith. It is where I bare my soul–first and foremost to God, and then to my readers. When I write about pilgrims’ journeys, I walk this road in my heart. In footsteps and stories and metaphors, I am pouring out my belief in this road we all take to our interior Jerusalem. My desire to reach this destination. My awe and fear over how difficult it is. My heartfelt cry that God would make the going just a little bit easier. I cannot express these beliefs in any other way than through the words in my book. Writing is a form of worship, prayer, and wrestling with the angel.

So, I’m a little at a loss this week. Happy, but out of sorts. Relieved, but scared. Resting, but feeling loss.

Fortunately, the journey goes on. I await the next steps . . . revisions and then getting the book into your hands so that you can walk this road with me.

May God grant each of us the grace to walk our portion of the road today. Travel well, perigrini.

 

 

Advent Is For Pilgrims

Have you noticed that journeys abound everywhere you look in the Christmas story? Mary and Joseph journey to Bethlehem. Then they take the infant Jesus to Jerusalem forty days after his birth. The wise men journey from afar. And the Holy Family flees to Egypt.

And what about us? Well, the Incarnation sets us on a journey, too.

CatherineofSiena
Fresco of St. Catherine from the Basilica of San Domenico, Siena, ca. 1400

In ca. 1378, the Italian mystic Catherine of Siena wrote:

You see this gentle loving Word born in a stable while Mary was on a journey, to show you pilgrims how you should be constantly born anew in the stable of self-knowledge, where by grace you will find me born in your soul.

This passage is from St. Catherine’s Dialogue. In the passage, God is instructing the soul. Notice, first, that God calls us “pilgrims.” You pilgrims. Hey, you pilgrims! Mary is not the only one on a journey this year. We are, too. We’re on our way to the stable, and we’re going there, in Catherine’s words, to be born anew.

To be precise, we will be “born anew in the stable of self-knowledge.” This phrase sounds remarkably modern. But by self-knowledge, I don’t think Catherine means “finding ourselves.” She means knowing ourselves as we can only truly be known . . . and that is through our rebirth in Christ. Even on a daily basis, we can be renewed in our spirit and regenerated in our heart by traveling to the source. To the stable. Born into Christ, into his great love, we know who we are and we know whose we are. This is surely one of the great yearnings we experience during the season of Advent – to see Christ come into time, into a hurting world, and make us new and tell us who we are.

In The Magnificent Defeat, Frederick Buechner speaks of this journey of renewal. Riffing on The Wizard of Oz, he writes, “For outlandish creatures like us, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning…” What he describes here is like a rebirth – an acquiring or knitting together of all the parts we need to make us whole.

Both Catherine of Siena and Frederick Buechner really speak to me this year. I’ve been feeling so fragmented, so pulled apart by circumstances and people and the warring desires of my heart. For me, rebirth means to be knit together as a whole creation. When this happens, I will not become something or someone entirely new. I will be most fully myself. This is Catherine’s “stable of self-knowledge.”

I like the way Catherine rephrases her thoughts on birth at the end of the passage quoted above. God says, “you will find me born in your soul.” To be reborn in Christ is to have him be born in our soul. It is a double birth.

If Christ is born in us, we can then bring him forth into the world. We can bring the love of Jesus to our neighbors, our friends, our family, and to our hurting communities. In his commentary on Luke, St. Ambrose said, “Christ has only one mother in the flesh, but we all bring forth Christ in faith.” Our own rebirth helps birth Christ for a world in need.

So this year, I am making a pilgrimage to Bethlehem. I hope you’ll come with me. We will travel to the stable like Mary so that we can find God born in our soul. And we’ll travel as our own broken selves so that we can be born into new life. Jesus and us, born on Christmas day.