We Are Pilgrims
Who knew that the twelfth hole was going to be a killer? Throughout the Masters Tournament, the commentators were focused on young Jordan Spieth. He was the darling–the favorite—and he was way ahead of the pack. As his drive left the tee on that fateful hole, the gallery gasped. Then, when the ball went “sploosh” into the water, everything changed in an instant. Six strokes later Jordan was out of the running. He had choked and would not repeat as the champion.
Contemporary life is defined by rapid change. What is up today is down tomorrow. The phone I buy on Wednesday is obsolete by Friday. This week’s hero is next week’s goat. Changes seem so rapid–even sudden–that we all long for something rock steady and immutable. To find it, we often look back to the past with a sigh and wallow in the nostalgic misconception that “ way back then” everything was steady and reliable and unchanging.
Even when we indulge these thoughts, we know they are so much baloney. Everything changes and has always been changing. The universe has evolved, as has life on earth. From the very beginning, the cycle of birth, growth, and death has been the fate of all living things. Seeds fall to the earth and die. From them plants rise to produce seeds, and the life cycle goes on.
Every human life is one constant experience of change. Five centuries before Christ, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus’s principle observation was simply “Everything is in a state of flux.” As he expressed it, “You never step into the same river twice.”
You don’t need me to catalog change for you. It doesn’t take too many trips to the mirror to chart the progress of your own change. Yesterday you were clear-skinned and wide-eyed. Today the person staring back at you is graying and a bit wrinkled. Parents are dying, and children are leaving home. The life you hold so dear slips through your fingers. It makes you want to stamp your feet and demand that time stand still because change can be intimidating, even frightening. Yet change goes on.
The inevitability of change sometimes wreaks havoc on our spirits. We begin to resist change and try to conserve the past and condemn as “modern nonsense” the pressure of the future.
In no area of life is this unwillingness to celebrate change more evident than in our life of faith. We want our faith to be a safe harbor from change. We don’t want anybody to mess with its rituals and structures. Yet answering the call of faith is answering the call to change. Christians are fond of the word metanoia—conversion. What is conversion if not a change of heart and mind? Conversion, however, is not a one-time event. It is a state of mind. Every day is an opportunity to grow and to renew.
Christians are pilgrims who are journeying through life. On a journey the scenery is always changing. It is also quite important to remember that the
Christian pilgrimage is not a solo flight. We are together on the journey. On the pilgrimage of faith, there are no outcasts. Christians don’t kick any people to the curb to leave them stranded on the roadside.
On the pilgrimage, each of us needs to raise our arms in a grand beckoning gesture so that everyone in earshot hears the words of this coming Sunday’s reading from Revelation:
They will not hunger or thirst anymore,
nor will the sun or any heat strike them.
For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne
will shepherd them
and lead them to springs of life-giving water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
We know that there are many water hazards and sand traps on life’s course, and sometimes we find ourselves in the rough. We have, however, the assurance that with God’s grace and mercy and with the support of the pilgrim community no mistake takes us out of the running. Our goal is in the future not in the past, and we face the rapid changes in our world with our eyes fixed on a shepherd’s promise.
I am the good shepherd, says the Lord;
I know my sheep, and mine know me.
My sheep hear my voice;
I know them and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
John 10:14, 27-28
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”