Pilgrims Don’t Sprint
- Written by Jody Vickery Jody Vickery
- Published: 20 October 2017 20 October 2017
Pilgrim’s Rest is a one-bedroom cabin nestled in a wood, at the end of a long gravel drive that turns off a two-lane country road just outside the wee mountain-top town of Pisgah, Alabama. There is a single grocery store here, Lucky’s Supermarket, a gas station, town hall and a school. A few yards west of the cabin, a little brook tumbles down the mountain and eventually empties into a larger stream.
The steady murmuration of white water rushing over ancient rock formations composes a peaceful soundtrack. As soon as the sun climbs over the eastern ridge, until it settles behind the trees to the west, a kaleidoscope of colors paints this mid-October boondock. I have been here for a few days now, and am thankful to my wife, colleagues and church for the opportunity. Sitting in a rocking chair on the back porch, I smell the woods and feel a crisp mountain breeze and sense the presence of God.
Not that God isn’t everywhere all the time. It’s just that here, or in places like this, where you get some distance from the constant push of the now and pull of the next, he seems more accessible. God is magnified in places like this. He isn’t any more present or larger or omni-whatever here than anywhere else. But for a moment, you see him more clearly. He doesn’t change. You change.
Come to a Quiet Place
In Mark 6:31, Jesus turned to his disciples: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” He ordered this retreat, Mark says, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat. So many people. So much coming and going. So little rest. If they did not have time to attend to their physical needs, their spirits were most certainly starving. Even before cell phones and the 24-hour news cycle and the incessant nag of social media, Jesus’ disciples needed a Sabbath.
Perhaps the most disobeyed of the Ten Commandments is the fourth – Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. It is the longest of the ten and situated in between the first three commands to honor God above all, and the last six, which focus on how we relate to and treat others. That arrangement does not order a list of priorities – God first, me second, others third. The Sabbath is not about me-time because it is not about me. Just the opposite. The Sabbath intends to put me in my place. It is a way of reminding me that the world was created long before I came along and ran just fine without me. And after I am dead, the world will somehow manage to get by.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel, in his classic, The Sabbath, writes:
He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil. He must go away from the screech of dissonant days, from the nervousness and fury of acquisitiveness and the betrayal in embezzling his own life. He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man. Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else.
A Pilgrim’s Pace
I wish I could get this image out of my head, but when I think of pilgrims, the first picture projected in my mental gallery features a hearty cast of people wearing bonnets and black buckle hats sitting around a table eating turkey and corn-on-the-cob. With indigenous peoples. Have mercy.
A pilgrim is a person who is on a journey, a long one, headed to a sacred place. Pilgrims don’t sprint. They take care of business, of course, and move along. But they know that hurry is not a friend to people who have many miles ahead of them. The destination sets the tone for the journey. Because it is sacred, this is not just a trip – it is a quest. And the people with whom they travel are not just seat mates – they are companions.
Most of the time, I do not live at a pilgrim’s pace. I travel more like a commuter; rushing about, angling to find the fastest lane at the grocery or on the freeway, fuming at those who cut me off or get in my way, watching the calendar and racing the clock. I am the poster child for Heschel’s “nervousness and fury.” It is an unpleasant way to live. It makes me unpleasant to live with. And it hardens the heart. The “seed of eternity” struggles to sink its roots in such tightly packed soil.
To be clear, it is not a sin to be busy. There are days and weeks and even seasons when regular responsibilities seethe under a pile of unexpected urgencies.
In busyness, though, the twin sins of imagined indispensability and overconfident self-regard are crouching at the door and desire to have us.
Just as Jesus called his disciples away from the coming and going, we also must step back now and then. Oddly, stepping back to rest, to listen, to pray, will not lengthen our journey – but it will strengthen us for it.