May 22, 2016 sermon pre-sabbatical
Chalice Lighting: (anonymous poem in German on Camino)
Why do I deal with the dry dust in my mouth,
The mud on my aching feet,
The lashing rain and the glaring sun on my skin?
Because of the beautiful towns?
Because of the churches?
Because of the food?
Because of the wine?No. Because I was summoned!
Today is my last Sunday before taking the second part of my sabbatical that I began last summer. It is common for ministers to get a sabbatical every four to six years, earning a month a year until it’s taken. Since I waited til the outer edge of time to take mine and actually was a year past the six year mark, since I’ll be celebrating 8 years as your pastor this August, I decided to split the time I earned--take half last summer, and half this summer.
Sabbaticals are different for ministers than for those in the academic world. In that world, you have to have a project, apply for it, and show your work when you return, show how it benefits the university.
For ministers, sabbaticals really are about what the root word means: Sabbath. Rest. Renewal. A time for restoration; a time to cleanse the spiritual and mental palate so that new tastes might be experienced, new ideas might come to the forefront that I would never have the room for rent
up here, in my noggin, to entertain in the busyness of my ministry I came up with Tuesdays with Nori during the first part of my sabbatical last summer.
Sabbaticals are good for the minister and they’re equally good for the congregation It gives you an opportunity to hear new voices, to hear the wisdom from people among you--members and leaders of this congregation--and the wisdom of folks from the community who have an area of expertise they will share.
Last year, as part of my restoration and renewal, I decided to run four half marathons. One a month. And it was restorative. I was able to move some emotions through my body and soul--
grief from losses I have experienced,weariness from life.
I came back with a lightnesst hat I didn’t have when I left.
This summer I’m doing the Camino de Santiago. It’s more acceptable to some people as a spiritual journey, but last year was deeply spiritual, too.
The Camino is an ancient pilgrimage that begins in the French Pyrenees and crosses Northern Spain, ending up in Compostela de Santiago where the Cathedral of St. James is. It’s a five hundred mile journey, something I could easily drive in less than 8 hours, but will take me a total of 36 days to walk, including two rest days.
While it was originally a Catholic pilgrimage, done for indulgences or as penance, today the Camino is a multi-faith experience; people from all over the world will walk for their own very private reasons. Some religious or spiritual. Some not The saying goes that everyone has their own Camino. It’s different for everyone.
And so, of course, people have asked me why I’m choosing to walk my Camino. And the answer is as simple as the chalice lighting.
I was summoned.
That poem is on a billboard, written in German, along the route. And it speaks to my own experience. I had gone to a weekend retreat in February, 2014 with the poet David Whyte.
His theme was on Solace: Asking the Beautiful Questions in Life’s Difficult Times.This was a few months after my brother killed himself and I was definitely seeking solace, and trying to frame the questions I had as beautiful.
In this retreat. David Whyte spoke of grief as a pilgrimage and he spoke of the Camino de Santiago, which I’d never heard of, and that was when the seeds of the summoning were planted.
A year later, David Whyte spoke at Colorado College on the subject of pilgrimage and then the deal was sealed.
So I was summoned, and over the past few months I’ve been trying to build up my stamina, and break in my hiking shoes, and train with my pack, and I have read books and seen movies about the Camino, and I still have no idea what I’m doing, and what will occur, and how it will change me, and what I will learn.
But as I was thinking of this grand adventure, it occurred to me that last summer’s series of four races was also a pilgrimage, and that actually my whole life is a pilgrimage. And so is yours.
Isn’t it? Don’t you feel it when you turn to look back at where you’ve been and realize you’ve learned valuable lessons along the way?
And don’t you sense the sacredness of this pilgrimage when you look ahead and can see the bend in the road and although you can’t see what’s beyond that curve in the road, you know you must keep journeying?
You are being summoned to this pilgrimage. As are we all. We just need to pay attention to the journey, to set down the remote control with its fast forward button, to stop the car before we get a speeding ticket, and get out and feel the earth beneath our feet.
This summer, while I’m hobbling down the camino, you’ll each be on your own path, seeking your own truth and meaning, as our fourth principle reminds us.
And so when I came across this list from the abstract painter Richard Diebenkorn I thought this was the perfect reminder for how to walk the camino, yours and mine.
The first thing we need to do is to attempt something that isn’t certain. This takes us out of our comfort zone; it summons us to a path that we don’t know, we haven’t taken, and we’re not sure of the outcome. If we only stay within the realms of what we know we can do, of places we have been and know, we will never learn what can only be learned in uncertainty.
In the ancient times, when cartographers were first making maps of the known world, when they reached the edge of their knowing they indicated the uncharted territory with the phrase, “Beyond here be dragons.”
It can be scary to go beyond the limits of our knowing, but when we let go of certainty we unlock something inside of us that yearns to be seen.
Next, the pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued - except as a stimulus for further moves. I have accumulated all the right gear--and I do look pretty cute in my hiking clothes , with my boots and backpack --but it’s not about the look. All this gear is meant to help me move forward. We’re supposed to do something with what we have, with what we have been given, and what we have learned.
Next: Do search. But in order to find other than what is searched for. I love this one. Sometimes we get so caught up in the certainty of rule number one that we think we know what we’ll experience, what we’ll see , and what we’ll find that we miss the unexpected treasures and insights, and relationship that weren’t in our line of vision.
When people ask me what I hope to gain from my camino, I say I don’t know. I want to be open. I am setting off on this journey To find that which I am not seeking.
Think about something you’re searching for. Now give up the object, but not the search. That’s a pilgrimage.
Next: Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities of the paint but consider them absolutely expendable and don’t “discover” a subject - of any kind. Remember that every day is a new day. Don’t hold on to the beauty of yesterday, the epiphanies on the miles behind you. Be open to companions that show up--the right subjects, the right people will cross your pathbright when they need to. As fellow pilgrims , tt’s only natural that our paths will cross and the journey will be shared--for a few miles or many.
Next: Somehow don’t be bored --but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.
Remember saying that as a kid to your mom? I’m bored! Mistake. That’s when the chore list came out.
The first goal is to not be bored--there’s so much to see, to learn, to take in! But if you’re going to be bored, then do something useful.
Next: Mistakes can’t be erased, but they move you forward from your present position. We are often so afraid of making mistakes; in fact we can be paralyzed with fear, of making the wrong choice, going the wrong direction. Here’s a news flash: We will make mistakes. It’s one of the endearing qualities that make us human. If I were to have a tombstone, I’d want it to say, “ Mistakes were made.” The point is to not make mistakes, but to use our mistakes to move forward. If we get a little lost on the camino, we can backtrack or find a shortcut from where we are. But we can always move forward. Our mistakes will never have the last word, unless we let them.
I like this one: Keep thinking about Pollyanna. What must the artist have been thinking when he wrote this? Was he thinking about how annoying people can be when they’re unrelentingly cheerful? Or maybe it’s a reminder to be optimistic, to shine the light of hope--even in the darkest night, or the longest day, when your feet are covered in blisters, and you have shin splints, and there’s still so many more miles to go.
Next: Tolerate chaos. This is another good one. On a pilgrimage, sometimes the bed doesn’t’ get made, you spill coffee over your white shirt on the way to the office, unexpected road work puts you on a detour. Just go with the flow. Life happens. It’s almost always messy. It’s okay.
Finally be careful, only in a perverse way. Be careful in a wild way, in a way that ensures your safety, if not your sanity. Be careful to not be too careful.
Pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago carry a scallop shell. Beyond being a part of the legend of St. James, it Identifies a person as a pilgrim, someone who is on a sacred journey--not a robber, lying in wait along the road. It’s also a sign to other pilgrims that we’re not alone, that this Camino is being shared with everyone who has ever been and ever will be.
It’s a sign of loyalty that we will walk this Way together. Even if our individual paths diverge.
During flower communion, please take a shell to carry with you this summer as a reminder that we are all pilgrims, walking each other home, as Ram Dass says, and that no matter how far apart we may be from one another over the coming months, we will return home changed, lighter in spirit, more connected to who we are, each of us with stories to tell.
May it be so.