For some years I have played with the idea of SSM (unpaid/volunteer) clergy and their stipendiary (paid clergy) friends meeting from time-to-time in the upper room of a pub where we might experiment with – learn to hold – conversations. The working title for this gathering was to be ‘Chapter & Verse’. It would be an Undergroud Seminary of sorts. There’d be none of the popular ‘theological expert’ speaker stuff followed by questions; instead we’d seek new ways of sharing knowledge, learning from one another, caring for one another, seeking God and reading the signs of the times. We’d aim to retake theology back from the academy and the ‘experts’ (or at least from its specialised annexation from our lived lives) and seek to learn afresh what it means to be stewards of the mysteries of God as Paul rather invitingly puts it [1 Cor 4:1].
Spotted recently on a Bakerloo Line tube carriage (on the door to the driver's cab). Someone has gone to the trouble of replicating the London Underground house style, to great effect. For those who actually read it, it resulted in both a big grin and plenty of eye contact.
* 'Custody of the eyes' (oculi custodiam): many of the saints in their zeal for purity would never look anyone in the face. “To avoid the sight of dangerous objects, the saints were accustomed to keep their eyes almost continually fixed on the earth, and to abstain even from looking at innocent objects,” says St. Alphonsus de Liguori. Not very practical but perhaps ready for a modern day adaptation in a world where our visual senses are bombarded by often manipulative and even misleading advertising and media images. We might add 'custody of the ears' too. In the meantime, let friendly eye contact and smiles prevail.
A link to what I regarded as a valuable warning about some aspects of the Christian practice of spiritual direction has gone dead - the dreaded but common '404: page not found'. Luckily other copies exist of the article by the late Ken Leech and I have copied it below the line for those who are interested (follow 'read more'). I have always gently declined requests to become someone's spiritual director. It is not that I don't respect the function (I do). It is more that it can drift into an unhelpful compartmentalisation. I have, though, always been ready and very willing to meet and talk; to be the bearer of another's secrets and worries and an affirmer of their calling and value. An accompanist, not a director.
To be a ‘pilgrim’ means to be a traveller. The root meaning is ‘to come from afar’. And the direction of travel is towards a holy place.
Little harm is done, and often much good is found, in this traditional model of pilgrimage: of leaving our homes and our routines and travelling as an outward expression of our being travellers who are seeking to make God our destination.
And little harm, and often much good is found, in a variation on this established model. We could call it the ‘stay at home’ pilgrimage, but that would be to short-change it. Maybe 'interior pilgrimage': the simple decision to regard ourselves as pilgrims, and to see our everyday lives (at times humdrum, at times exciting, often somewhere between the two) as avenues of pilgrimage. And to see ourselves as embarked upon the adventure of moving towards the holy.
There is only one pre-requisite, and it’s a big one. We have to find a way of leaving behind the small world of our ego and its incessant preoccupations. That applies too, of course, to those geographical and blistered pilgrims pounding the well worn routes. To arrive at Santiago de Compostela, or Rome or Jerusalem with our egos still comfortably in charge means we haven’t travelled very far at all.
The best kind of pilgrim knows from the outset that in order to arrive she must leave something behind. And so it is with that part of ourselves which is endlessly preoccupied with itself and in the process is constantly defining, predicting, judging, whispering, acquiring, defending and expanding. This noisy and always fundamentally fearful part of our make-up has to be firmly patted on the head and told to go to its basket. And the first step is for us to stop identifying with this noisy voice, this ego, which we so often mistakenly identify as our essential self.
Pilgrimage viewed in this way can be undertaken within our usual routines, making them, miraculously, unusual. And it does not even have to be 24/7 as the jargon has it. If that seems too much, be a pilgrim every Tuesday and see what happens. Pilgrimage is a way of seeing differently, and of journeying towards greater awareness of God and God’s world and away from our rather small worlds of ingrained opinions and dubious certainties. It is, fundamentally, the way of following Christ in our lives. And it can be a tremendous adventure.
Awareness of the potential impact on our planet of our greed and carelessness is slowly gaining ground. Whilst having been as ignorant as everyone else of the scale of the harm being done through our consumption and dumping, I had – for as long as I can recall – a sensibility towards the Earth. Seeing people drop litter, for example, has always occasioned something of a wince, not only of anger towards the dropper, but anguish for the creation, such easy littering indicating as it does the contempt of the species towards the planet which is so generous a host.