Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The More I Experience, the Less I Believe

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

I’ve walked four pilgrimages in Ireland—once I walked across Ireland almost 400 miles. The mountains of Ireland can be daunting; at times the weather can be harsh. I’ve walked alone. I’ve walked with groups of twelve. I’ve walked a twenty-three mile day. I’ve fasted during eight-hour walks. My pilgrimages have built on one another. I’ve encountered the mystical and the magical.

Before going on a walking pilgrimage I had to spend significant time preparing. I bought good boots. I took the time and walked the miles to break in my boots properly. For every 100 miles of pilgrimage, I walked 400 to get ready; that’s twenty-five miles a week for four months.

Still, after all this walking, I have a constant ache to walk another pilgrimage. I hunger to be on a perpetual pilgrimage. I’ve come to realize my life has been a series of one pilgrimage after another. Life is a spiral of what is above and what is below. Every event is connected, becoming integrated—mind, body, soul interwoven with nature and the Divine.

Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes is about a spiritual pilgrimage; a hunger for righteousness and purity. The English definitions of righteousness and purity can make us feel that Jesus’ goals are impossible to achieve. I feel that I can never be righteous and pure.

But in the Greek, the word righteousness, in this context, means we hunger and thirst for a ‘second chance.’ And the word purity is a chemical term, meaning a ‘heart of gold.’ Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for a second chance for they will be filled with a heart of gold and they will see God.

The point of Jesus’ teaching is that if we make the best of our second chance the process will lead to heart of gold. The second chance is walking another pilgrimage with God in order to create a heart of gold within us.

So, what does walking a pilgrimage with God look like? In our Book of Common Prayer, on page 236, there is this beautiful prayer of how to live a life walking with God. “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scripture to be written for our learning; Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life…” To spend our time immersed in the scripture is to walk with God.

In 1960 I was seven-years-old. My parents gave me this bible as a Christmas gift. As a child I made notes in the bible. Then, in 1967, my grandmother gave me this bible as a Christmas gift. There’s lot of underlining in this bible and more notes. At some point I had to tape the back on the bible to hold it together. In 1974, my sister-in-law gave me this bible for Christmas. (There seems to be a pattern forming.) This bible is filled with notes, underlining and colored highlights. In 1993, I bought a Harper Study Bible. I used this bible so much I had to tape the cover on it—the back broke and the pages started falling out. Then, ten years ago, at my ordination, the bishop presented me with this bible. It is also filled with notes and marking and the cover has fallen off this bible as well.

These bibles mark the progression of my spiritual pilgrimage with God; they are the symbols of the process of the spiral of my spiritual work. The first bible, I was a child—I thought like a child, talked like a child, and acted like a child. The second bible was during my teenage years. It was a period of stretching, testing, rebelling, and growing. The third bible was my young adult years. I was conforming to the way of world in which I lived. Cathy and I had young children. It was the first half of my life and I needed boundaries and guidelines. The Harper’s Bible is the symbol of moving from the first half of life to the second half—leaving the answers behind, to instead search for the questions that lead to more questions. The bible I’ve carried for the last ten years is a symbol of the pilgrimage of life. This bible is a symbol of the great paradox I’m experiencing. For the more liberal my theology becomes, the more mystically deep it goes. Honestly, I don’t believe anything anymore—however I continually have deep mystical magical knowledge filled experiences with the Divine. The less I know and believe, the more I experience. I’m starting to wonder if it’s time for a new bible?

A dear friend of mine told me a story about her dad. At the beginning of every year he would buy a new bible. He read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested that bible throughout the year. At the end of the year he would look back over the previous year’s bible to see if he’d changed his thinking in any way, which he often did. Even in retirement he kept up the practice of buying a new bible at the beginning of every year. Finally, near the end of his life, he couldn’t see very well nor hold his bible. It was then my friend would go see her dad everyday. And everyday she would read his bible to him. And regularly, he would stop her and say, “Ruth, underline that, make a note in the margin.”

This experience of spiritual pilgrimage is not unique. Everyone can walk this path with God—it never too late in life to begin spiraling above and below. You only need three things, a bible, a prayer book, and a pencil. In the back of the BCP are the daily readings. Ten minutes a day is all it takes to go on this mystical, knowledge filled, magical pilgrimage. Listen, read, mark, learn, inwardly digest—start walking.

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