“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Gen.12:1)
There is this idea of the epic journey in literature and history. Such a journey changes everything. Whether it is Odysseus’s journey in ancient Greece, Marco Polo’s exploration of the East, Israel’s wanderings in the desert, Lewis and Clark’s exploration west of the Mississippi, or the idea of a vision quest in native American culture… our world expands and our spirit grows as we venture beyond the place were formerly settled.
We are exploring practices from the Celtic tradition to cultivate our soul life. Last week we talked about “crossing thresholds” moving beyond the borders that define our present life and perspective. Today we reflect on “Peregrination” taking a journey to unknown destination. This morning’s first reading was a classic example of such a journey: “Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you…” (Gen. 12:1) From the beginning of our sacred story, there is this idea of taking a journey from all that is familiar and home in order to discover a new place of belonging. Such a journey is called “Peregrination” in Celtic spirituality, and such a journey requires faith.
How this would be practiced in Celtic tradition is a spiritual seeker would literally get in his or her boat, with as minimum of supplies as necessary, and set sail to wherever the currents, winds, and instincts would take them. There they would reestablish their life and practice. This is how many monastic communities were founded in places like Lindisfarne, in Northumbria, or Iona, off the coast of Ireland and other remote places throughout Brittania. As I understand it, a Peregrination, is a pilgrimage, but not one that takes us to a designated holy place to return back home, a peregrination takes us to an unknown destination where we discover a resurrection, or re-definition of our life. Very much like the one Abram was instructed to take in Genesis. The whole Jewish tradition emerged from one man’s Peregrination. American history and culture since the 16th century has been initiated and forged by countless Peregrinations from England, from Spain, from Ireland, from Germany, from all over the world people left their families and homeland to the “new world” of unknown opportunity and hope.
I only recently, last year to be exact, became familiar with this term, Peregrination. It was not long after our parish had moved from three services to two. For me, it described the journey we were on. Our life together had settled, for twenty-years, into a familiar practice and identity of three distinct and segregated faith communities: the 7:30ers, the 9:00oclockers, and the 11:11ers. I realized that we too, were on a journey of unknown origin of new settlement and practice. A journey that has lodged us from the familiar and comfortable to discover new ways and place of being the community of St. Andrew.
A Peregrination is not the iconic “family vacation” where every stop, every activity, and daily budget has been predetermined and carefully adhered. It is not a pilgrimage where one goes to visit to return home again. A Peregrination is getting in the car and leaving home to not return. It is a journey of faith, and trust, and openness to discover new ways of being and new identities to embrace. Now I realize that I may be unique in my perspective of our present time and journey together. I have gotten the impression that some feel we simply ended the 11:11 service to return to the ways before we did three services. I have heard other perceptions that we simply suspended the three services to resume them. I have perceived much discomfort and a “digging in” to keep things the same because that is the way “I like it.” And maybe I am wrong and others are right. But I at least ask others to consider this idea that is repeated again and again in sacred story and history, the idea that there comes a time for the epic journey of leaving the long held place of settlement, to discover a new place of resurrection and life. I wish us to realize that we are no longer the people or parish we were two years ago, ten years ago, twenty years ago, or fifty years ago, and it goes without saying, the people and world around us is no longer the same either. Together, we are on a journey, being unmoored from the familiar and former ways of doing and being, we are seeking new and transformative ways of being the church.
This idea, I think, carries through in this morning’s gospel. Where Jesus is conversing with Nicodemus, a man who was steeped in a clearly defined tradition of theology and practice, who was both drawn to but also disturbed by the teaching and practices of Jesus. Jesus told Nicodemus, Unless you be born again, will you enter the Kingdom of God.” Nicodemus responded, “I am old and have carefully arrived to the place I am at, how can someone like me re-enter the womb of a mother and be re-born. And Jesus than spoke of Spirit, and wind, and discernment, and faith.” I think Jesus was trying to invite Nicodemus to join him on a Peregrination, just as he invited all of his disciples to leave the familiar places they had settled to discover new places of resurrection and life and the ways of the Kingdom of God. This very principle of spiritual growth we see in Abram’s journey, and in Jesus’s invitation to Nicodemus, Paul lays out in all of his letters to the early church, the Christian path to spiritual growth and transformation is the baptismal path of being buried with Christ in order to being raised with Christ, again and again and again.
When I think of this idea of Peregrination I do not think only of our parish as a whole; I think of individuals whose lives have been unsettled from where it was. I think of those who have lost life-partners, I think of those who are living with life-altering diagnosis, I think of those whose stages of life have moved from one vocation to another, from one life stage to another, from a state of independence to one of dependence upon others. I think of the place where we have come as a culture, dislodged from the way things were, to ways we are still trying to understand and comprehend. Can we not see the Peregrination in all of this? A journey that requires faith, hope, trust, and love? A journey that perhaps is neither directed by forces on the right or the left but one that is more like wind and spirit leading us forth to unknown destination and resurrection? It is at least a notion to consider, that in all the mysterious movement and migration of life we can consider the psalmist’s assurance “The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in, from this time forth for evermore.” The God who watched over Israel in all of their wanderings and journeys, watches over all of us amidst the brilliance and heat of day AND the darkness and chill of night. “ Psalm 121: 4-8 (paraphrased).