As one who envisions the Christian life as a journey, the title of this posting -- "We are all pilgrims" -- hits home. Today especially, where our religious identities are not as fixed as they once were, it is helpful to consider what the journey looks like. That we are pilgrims is an apt term. Several years ago Diana Butler Bass wrote a book entitled Christianity for the Rest of Us, in which she lifted up this image of spiritual pilgrim. Now Bruce Epperly explores this same concept in connection with Celtic theology and spirituality. I invite you to read this further posting in Bruce's conversations on Celtic theology.
We are All Pilgrims
Reflections on Celtic Theology
We live in an adventurous universe in which we live adventurous lives, despite the apparent regularity and stability – some would say boredom – of the everyday. An asteroid passes by the earth and we are unaware of it. Our planet hurtles around the sun, spinning on its axis and we think we’re standing still. Our immune system works overtime to combat flu germs and other unwelcome intruders and life goes on as usual, or so it seems. As I noted in my book, Holy Adventure, we are all on a holy adventure in companionship with a Holy Adventurer, who evolved the universe and evolves, albeit quietly and non-coercively, our lives and the emerging world around us.
As a symbol for life’s pilgrimage, Celtic monks sailed out to sea in coracles, little boats, without a rudder for steering. Though they affirmed human freedom, they also trusted God to guide them to their place of resurrection, the place of wholeness and fulfillment, where they would experience God’s vision for their lives. They experienced divine guidance in the wind and waves that propelled their skiffs to surprising places. They assumed providence and synchronicity everywhere.
These days, most of us recognize that life is adventurous, and sometimes this is unsettling. Frankly, we don’t know where our world is headed: Greece may default, the Euro is in trouble, Italy is in economic peril, our retirement savings and investments go up and down from day to day, not to mention, the vicissitudes of our own little worlds. We are all pilgrims on an uncertain, but holy adventure and the most important thing we can do is embrace the adventure and remember that by our choices we are creating new adventures for ourselves and others.
Much of my life is spent in companionship with a fourteen month old toddler. I am amazed at the novelty of his days and how they are shaping my own life, when I see the world through his eyes, whether crawling on the floor, toddling alongside him as he races down the sidewalk, or as we gaze at airplanes and buses, our hearts beating fast in excitement at the novelty of each encounter. His life is new every morning. Adventure awaits him as he picks up a stick, kicks a ball, or follows an airplane in the sky. Each of these is a portal to the imagination and to surprises along the way.
While the world becomes more routine and predictable, or so we think, as we grow older, our lives are still an adventure in which we – like the Celtic peregrines – pilgrim from day to day.
Perhaps, as we grow older, we close the doors of perception simply to focus on one or two things at a time. We forget the wonder of each day and the novelty of each encounter, even those with spouses and friends we have known for decades.
The Buddhists say that we need to greet the world with the “beginners mind.” The Taoists speak of the “uncarved block.” Jesus spoke of becoming like a child in the simplicity and appreciation of the moment. In other words, become a pilgrim and adventurer, rejoicing in the wonder of life, experiencing the holiness of each moment, and novelty of each breath.
The Celtic Christians recognized that life involves change. God was not only our companion amid change, but the inspiration to growth and change. The God of Israel never stands still but is immersed in history, shaping and being shaped by the flow of human experience and decision-making. Jesus is always on the move, never settling down, but venturing to new places to fulfill his mission. Every turn of the road brought Jesus a surprising encounter and opportunity to share God’s hospitality, healing, and love.
We are all pilgrims. We can, in the spirit of the Celtic adventurers, join openness to each moment with the intentionality necessary for personal and professional excellence. We can have a vision or plan for the day, but live loosely, knowing that holiness is found in interruptions and unexpected bumps in the road. We may, like the magi, go home by another way, traveling a pathway we had not expected. Unexpected changes may bring pain – losing your job, having to re-evaluate your retirement, or facing a child’s illness are unsettling and sometimes devastating – but we have an adventurous partner on the pilgrimage who gives light to paths and presents us with possibilities for adventure as we journey through life’s valley. Embrace the pilgrimage, for God’s center is everywhere. (For more on Celtic Theology, see Bruce Epperly, The Centeris Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern World and J. Philip Newell, A New Harmony.)
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty one books, including Process Theology: A Guideto the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.