Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The tourist, the pilgrim and the traveler; a long and winding tale of paths traveled and lessons learned

This morning when I posted my Neil Peart quote, I zipped off to his website to copy the URL to link to his initials. This evening while I tried to shed the accumulation of the day from my grey matter – clear off the mental desktop, if you will – so that I could access what I needed to get back to work on tomorrow morning’s chapel, I visited the site once again and clicked to listen to him narrate a portion of his book, “Ghost Rider”.
In just a couple pages, several observations struck me. He comments on the difference between being a tourist and a traveler, and I was made to think of Jack’s and my trip to the canyon last week. For a year, I’d called it a rite of passage, for weeks I’d fantasized, talked and dreamed of it being a pilgrimage. When purchasing airfare, I’d been perfectly willing to take the trip with the most connections, plane changes, and land hours from the canyon to drive the final leg of the journey. I talked with Allison about my desire for this to be the main point of the time together with Jack. The Journey. The point of the Journey is not to arrive.
I had thought, weeks ago, about the difference in a tourist, a traveler and a pilgrim. I thought about the popular theology in the recent past, of our place on the planet. “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through”, “I am a pilgrim, and a stranger, traveling through this wearisome land, I have a home…” This idea is not all of the past, even Switchfoot declares, “I don’t belong here, I’m gonna carry a cross and song where I don’t belong.” But in these words, there is a bit more of a resolution to own the journey, to be intentional in the getting from here to there. Rich Mullins promises “I’ll carry the songs we learned when we were kids, I’ll carry the scars of generations gone by, I’ll pray for you always and I promise you this, I’ll carry on.” Michael Card recognizes that “there is a joy in the journey, there’s a light you can love on the way, there is a wonder and wildness to life.”
I don’t want to be a tourist, I’ve been self-conscious of this since I was a little kid. I’ve always felt weird appearing as some rubber-necking, gawker, come by to see what all the hullabaloo is about. I always fantasized about blending in when I traveled outside my element. I’ve never believed that being “in the world but not of it” meant wearing a Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts with a fishing hat and a camera slung around your neck.
A tourist checks the listings to see what other people seem to be interested in, pays a fare and sits back to drive by or fly over and be told about what he’s seeing outside his window. A vicarious naked-eye observation of something that is going on outside himself. This is not what I want to be. Jack and I didn’t go to the canyon to gaze from afar and be told interesting facts about the sediment layers. We came so that at some point in our footsteps, we’d put our weight down in the precarious, eroding, sandy desert soil and step beneath the rim and feel the canyon around us. Turn our faces to the wind and feel the bitter bite of winter from the outside of the windshield. Not only to gaze from a panoramic vantage, but to experience the height before us, and the depth behind us simultaneously. To be immersed at once in the past and the future.

Yes I called it a pilgrimage, and I guess both Jack and I were pilgrims but from quite different perspectives. I was determined not to let Jack know where we were going until we arrived, because although we would arrive, it was not the point of the journey. I know I’m weird, but that was one of my main objectives – to create a metaphor in a rite of passage in which the getting there was just as much a part of the experience as the being there. Perhaps the getting there is just as much a part of the being there as the arrival is. Eternity is infinite forward and back. Eternity doesn’t have a beginning and thus doesn’t start when we get there. It already is and we’re in it.
I planned for Jack to fall asleep during the car ride from Phoenix. I planned for him to miss the signs that would give away our destination. He, immediately after departure, understood that we weren’t headed someplace for a rite of passage, but the rite of passage had begun. After the fact, when I talked with him about our traveling, we observed that even though he slept, we were still on our way, still moving. I hadn’t slept, but kept driving so that when he woke, we were closer. He was carried while sleeping. We talked about the fact that though I knew where we were headed and he didn’t, we were both pilgrims, and though I knew where we were going, neither of us had been there before. Though I had never been there, I knew the way and was taking him.

Once inside the canyon, we weren’t even pilgrims anymore. When we stepped over the rim, we had no destination, only an invitation for experience. We became travelers on a walk to meet whatever came our way. Pilgrimage is great, but the journey doesn’t always go as we plan. Nor is it designed to.
The Apostle Paul understood this. As a pilgrim, he forgot what was behind and pressed on toward the mark, but as a traveler, he understood that he wasn’t guiding himself toward a goal, but being called, drawn to it from the future. As a pilgrim, he realized that to die was gain, it would bring him to the pilgrim’s destination. But as a traveler, he realized that to live is Christ, that until he was brought to his destination, he was led on journey that was just as important. Philip surely understood this as he was told where to go and he went there, saw what was to be done and did it, after which he was carried elsewhere by the Spirit. Philip wasn’t pressed to his own plans, but traveling and being led, learning and trusting and all the time growing closer to what and where he was supposed to be.

Sometimes I feel that the differences between misunderstood word meanings, even slight nuances are detrimental to our being. Tourist, pilgrim and traveler. Other words that speak to the now and then are also confused. Currently and presently, for example. Currently describes what is, and presently, what soon will be. Likewise, Jesus’ language confuses us. The kingdom of God is at hand. So many people hear that as if it is just around the corner. Any day now. But to me, at hand means within grasp. Reach out and grab it. It is here. “An hour is coming and now is, when true worshipers will worship in Spirit and Truth. We won’t go to the mountain, or down to Jerusalem, because it isn’t about a place, it doesn’t come about by careful observation, you can’t say here it is, or there it is, because the kingdom of God is within and among us.
What? That can’t be, because I’ve not yet gotten to where I’m going? Perhaps we’re not only journeying to the kingdom, but journeying within the kingdom. Why is it so difficult to recognize. “Do you mean I’ve been living in it all this time and didn’t even know it?” Do we look around and say if this is it, it is certainly not all that? But once we realize what it is, it begins to look and feel completely different. We stop wishing our lives away. We stop existing in a grass is always greener mentality. We begin to realize that to live is Christ, we claim citizenship, recognize those who don’t realize what they are in the midst of, those who are resident aliens, and set about offering them the same citizenship by the same means it was given to us.
All those who wander are not lost. As James Taylor confesses, it’s enough to be on your way, it’s enough to be moving on, it’s enough just to cover ground. Press on.
May this day set me in motion. I ought to be on my way.