For the last several months, I have been spending many evenings reading books by British author Robert Macfarlane. He’s an adventurer, a Cambridge University professor, and an explorer of the wild places, old roads and paths across Great Britain. I am not a nature buff, but I am drawn to Macfarlane’s lyrical words and descriptions of his explorations of the natural world through his travels and through literature. I fancy him as a pilgrim of sorts – an explorer on a journey in search of the holy. Historically, the word “pilgrim” could be used as a verb. To “pilgrim” was to wander like a pilgrim. While Macfarlane’s work is not overtly religious, the sacredness of his pilgriming is overt. For many people, God is revealed in the natural world.
The other night, the following lines from Macfarlane’s The Wild Places caught my imagination, so I underlined them: “Wave and tidal action will always tend to round things off if they are soft enough. This is as true of a peninsula of several hundred square miles as it is of a stone or piece of sea-glass.” On a journey to the Suffolk coast northeast of his home in Cambridge, Macfarlane pilgrimmed in search of unpopulated, rocky peninsulas created by storms and tides which are home to ever-changing sand dunes and populations of seals and migratory birds. It was in this landscape that he considered the forces that shape these peninsulas and the rocks that form them.
In his pilgrimage to the far Suffolk coastline, Macfarlane’s description of the action of the waves and tides on the stone and sea glass that washed on the shore – and upon the very shore itself – strikes a deep chord that resonates with my spirit. We are, brothers and sisters in Christ, like the sea glass that washes upon the shore – shaped and molded by the tides of life.
We often consider discipleship in terms of a pilgrimage. We speak of journeys and paths, of wandering and following. Once we have been saved by God’s grace, we must then make the additional decision to allow that grace to shape us and mold us – much like the work of the tides and waves on the sea glass. We trust in God’s grace to smooth our rough edges, to form us from shards of broken glass into treasures – into the beautiful objects that God intended us to be. Our formation is never complete: we are continuously being fashioned by the waves if our hearts are soft enough to be malleable.
As you return from your own summer wanderings, consider the next leg of your journey. Where will your pilgrim’s travels lead you this year? What tidal forces will you allow to shape you: the forces of the world or the forces of the grace? I urge you to pilgrim this year. Permit your spirit to be formed by waves of grace, and seek out these godly forces.
When pilgrims journey to significant religious sites, they often follow well-worn pathways marked by signs to guide them in the correct direction and to mark safe lodgings. On the Camino de Santiago in Spain and France, the pilgrim’s path is marked by scallop shells. On our pilgrimming, we mark our paths with our own scallop shells with rituals of worship and the Sacraments, with searching the Scriptures, with small groups of fellow wanderers, and with fellowship in celebration and in sorrow. For each pilgrim there are moments and events that we use to mark our journeys.
The pilgrims here at Hayes Barton United Methodist Church journey together. We wander and explore the way of faith. We allow ourselves to be shaped and molded by waves of grace in our beloved community and personally. As you return from your summer travels, if you feel disconnected or as if you are missing the signs along the path, let us journey with you. The Formation Pathway at Hayes Barton UMC offers our community the opportunity to recognize the signs along the journey through formative study of the Bible and devotional readings, small groups of prayer warriors and covenanting men and women, and practicing the (lost) art of listening to one another in love and with respect. This fall, wander into a Sunday School class or seek out a small group, read the Bible in Disciple Bible Study, join your fellow pilgrims for a meal on Wednesday nights. Our offerings for the fall are provided at www.hbumc.org.
Author and Catholic theologian J.R.R. Tolkien famously wrote: “Not all who wander are lost.” Make this year a time of pilgrimming, of allowing the Holy Spirit to tumble you, to mold you, and to shape you through God’s loving grace.
Your sister in Christ,