Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pilgrim People

Over on another blog, I posted about our pilgrimage, and about how starkly we're invited on the camino to carry only what we need. Extra stuff is merely a burden that we've felt with every step on our backs and our poor beat-up feet. The people we walk with, on the other hand, lighten our burden. Indeed, we are companioned by a number of people along the way. In this section of the trail, lots of Irish folk. Earlier, we ran into more Germans and Spaniards. And Marty and I tell stories, share songs, discuss what Jesus is up to in the daily lectionary, and settle the various problems of world, school and church as we walk. The kilometers fly by. Well, they stroll by, and at the end of the day they plod by, but they do go by.

As pilgrims, too, there are certain basic attitudes we have. We don't worry whether we successfully order a ham and cheese sandwich or if it arrives with only jamon. It's good either way. We like to find clean bathrooms--actual toilet seats are a plus! While we don't beg for our meals like earlier pilgrims did, still we aim to be pleasant, even ingratiating, as we mangle the Spanish language. We delight in small graces--we nearly jump up and down when our clothes are clean! We try to help our fellow pilgrims, especially if they seem lost (we've met no seriously injured pilgrims so far, mercifully. Most of us are walking with minor injuries of various kinds.) We share food and wine. We don't bother too much with what separates us in ordinary life--language, politics, religion. What we have in common simply as human beings on the road is enough, and to try to foster delight in ourselves and others is part of our task.

The Vatican II document Lumen Gentium described the Church as a "pilgrim church." The seem to mean by this chiefly that the Church is not yet the kingdom, but is on route there. But...does the Church, especially its leadership, walk as pilgrims? I think this would partly mean to carefully de-pack what's not needed, as we minimize our packs. Do we need a regal hierarchy in glorious buildings, or really do we need not much more than the gospels, the sacraments, and the community? (OK, educated leadership--we are seminary profs, after all.) Do we engage those around us--"the world"--in an agreeable, even ingratiating manner, or does the Church more often lead with condemnation? A pilgrim would starve that way! Do we focus clearly on the basic fact that holds us together as Church--our common humanity in need of the good news of Jesus--or do we set up arcane doctrinal tests for membership? Most basically, do we delight in what we've been given--creation, community, call--and try to respond by sharing what we have--the most basic manifestation of both justice and love? A pilgrim isn't a pilgrim only because the end point hasn't been reached. A pilgrim is a pilgrim because of how the trail is walked.

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