The quotidian pilgrimage

All in a day’s work…

One of the things I’ve noticed as I’ve been pondering what direction we might explore in this coming term is that it is hard to let go of the desire for a tangible goal, or a clear path with encouraging milemarkers that let you know you are

a) still heading in the right direction,

b) making measurable progress and

c) can expect to arrive somewhere in a style that feels like an achievement.

I notice it as I lead a community of faith – the desire to feel like we’re actually going somewhere, doing something together that is meaningful and effective.

It’s not unreasonable – we look to leaders for direction, which implies movement, or at least intention.

But a friend of mine often reminds me that life is a journey, and so is faith. It is not a destination we are aiming for, but a way of being along the way that is awake to the movement and the flow of life.

So I plan to explore the idea of the daily pilgrimage this term, and I hope you find the resources invite you to journey in a particular way through each day: a way that honours the pace of human being; a way that offers nourishment for human flourishing; a way that allows for curiosity and the wonder of encountering freshly the delights each day brings; a way that embraces the griefs and sorrows that accompany our journey.

The gospel – at least the way I understand it – invites us to join as partners with God in the ongoing unrolling of divine reconciliation. God’s invitation draws us and all things into the creative, healing, restoring flow of Love and so our life may be gently, slowly, joyfully and, let’s be honest, at times painfully transformed through our responsiveness to being encountered by God.

There are not many short cuts on this journey. The ones I am aware of require the kind of courage, passion and singleness of heart that I am sure are beyond me to choose consciously.

So we’ll be taking the long way round….it’ll look something like this

To go on a pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God

Pope Benedict XVI

Although I want to get picky with Benedict about who is initiating the encounter (hint: it’s God) the fact remains that we can choose to step out of ourselves and our autopilot patterns. We can choose to open our heart and mind, or we can not.

We can choose to “prepare…” and practice or we can not.

We can jump from ballet to jazz to modern to tap (it’s all dancing, after all), or we can settle in for the slow growing, one-step-at-a-time-begin-again daily pilgrimage of learning to be here, learning to be kindly present to ourselves and present to others with compassion.

The Resources

Spend some time with this story from Mark’s version of the gospel, reading it through several times, slowly, and notice if a word or phrase catches your attention, sparks your curiosity or creates tension within you.

Mark 9: 33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

Let your responses to the word or phrase guide you as you process what is stirred in you – you may like to journal, take a walk or talk quietly with God. If there is tension you may need some more vigorous activity to help you move through the emotional response – a run/uphill fast walk/argue with God.

The Prompts

Jesus asks the disciples what they were arguing about as they journeyed together to Capernaum. In your daily journey, condsider:

  • what are the things that you most often argue about ‘on the way’? Where does the energy come from for these arguments? What fuels your reactions?
  • who are the ones you most often argue with? What are the outcomes of your interactions?
  • in the communities you are part of, what is it ‘we’ most often argue about? Who is the ‘them’ to your ‘us’?

Jesus offers us the child as a model of discipleship. This is a beautiful metaphor for us to ponder, so think for a moment of yourself as a child… your hopes and fears, your sense of yourself in the world, in your family, in yourself. How might you make this child welcome in the circle of adults?

The practices

Attending to attention

Children have the ability to be both easily distracted and to be totally absorbed. How we manage our attention requires us to be aware of what we are choosing to attend to and what we allow to draw our attention away from our intention.

Three practices follow to help you grow that awareness and to exercise and stretch the attention muscles.

There isn’t anything new here, really, because there isn’t a magic practice that will fast track us into wisdom, grace, humility, compassion, generosity, joy and surrender. But these will grease the skids…give it a try, stick with it, and we’ll keep each other company on the way.

Diving in deep with wonder-full play

Recall from your own childhood the things that fascinated you, the activities or environments where you sank in, lost time, forgot yourself in the wonder of play or exploration…take some time to reflect on what has become of those interests and enjoyment, and then consider what activities or environments allow you that same level of self forgetting focus.

Once you have an idea of what will allow you to lose your sense of time and self, make a date for yourself to play and have no goal beyond giving yourself to the activity, whatever it is. Set aside any expectation of outcome or productivity. Give yourself at least an hour, if possible longer, but once you have started, let go of watching the clock. Set a timer if you need to stop at a particular time, but otherwise practice losing yourself in deep attention and allow your self to resurface in your own time.

This is a once a week practice.

Single pointed focus

This is the intention for Christian meditation, zazen meditation, yogic breathing meditation and many others: pick a focus (breath/word/sensation/icon) and draw your attention back to it, gently and repeatedly. Distractions will come; when you notice that you have been entertaining them, gently let them go, returning to your focus. Distractions will come again; when you notice you have once more been entertaining them, kindly let them go and return to the focus. If you are kind, patient and persistent with the child of your attention then she (he) will catch on eventually.

This is a daily practice, for at least 20 minutes at a time. If you already have a daily practice of this, or a similar kind of awareness practice, consider adding a second 20 minutes at the other end of the day from your usual set time.

Awaken awareness

Human beings filter information so that we aren’t overwhelmed with every piece of data that we are receiving in a continual stream. We filter the feeling of our clothes on our bodies until we become aware of something being too tight/ too hot/too itchy etc.

We filter the sensations in our bodies of discomfort, fear, excitement, sadness, anger and often only allowing the permissible emotions to register, never mind to be welcomed, experienced or expressed.

We filter the information we receive from others, making assumptions, grouping people into categories or boxes by skin colour, gender, political persuasion, etc. etc. and telling stories about ourselves and others that saves us time and offers us a reassuring narrative about our safe place in the world or in ‘our’ group.

Growing awareness begins a transformational shift as you loosen the grip of fear driven coping strategies and awaken to the gracious fullness of Presence with you, in you, for you and through you.

Pick a way in to practice awakening your awareness – body sensation; emotional affect; relational assumptions. Choose the path that seems like the open doorway to you rather than the one that seems the biggest challenge even if that’s the place you feel like you need to make the biggest change.

Start where you are with what is least fearful,most ready to soften and most ready to welcome your returning attention.

Set ‘waymarks’ in your day to pause and check in with awareness to whichever path you have chosen. The waymarks could be an alarm on your phone, set at various intervals during your day, or they could be natural breaks/places in your day, for example: on waking as you lie in bed and before you get up, or if that is too soon, as you eat breakfast or brush your teeth; during a mid morning break for coffee/tea/bathroom stop; at lunch, a pause to check in before you eat or before you get up to go on to whatever comes next; mid afternoon, or end of the work day, check in before you pack your bag for home; just before you get ready for bed, pause and return your attention to the path of awareness.

Aim for around 5 pauses through the day, and let all these check ins and the other practices be non-judging.

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