Stepping Out

Today I sheepishly launch my little boat out into the great blogosphere.  Those who know me well, feel free to laugh.  I have protested often that I would never do such a thing.  But recently I phoned a friend on the Wittenberg 2017 board to discuss some writing I had in mind.  My idea was to write about Wittenberg 2017 as a pilgrimage, to elaborate on the historical significance of sites we have chosen as meetings places, to reflect on the spiritual nature of pilgrimage, to invite people to share their own pilgrim stories and photos. My friend suggested that our website was not yet ready for the content, but a blog would be a great place to start.

During the course of that conversation, I found my feelings shifting. I realized that our family is currently stepping out on pilgrimage in significant ways, and we have invited many to join us. In mid-May we will travel to Austria, then to Trento, Italy for the next gathering of Wittenberg 2017.  When we return, we will move into Christ the Reconciler, our new home in Elgin. Then begins the adventure of hosting a retreat center which we pray will be a resting place for many pilgrims on their journeys.  As I spoke with my friend on the phone, fears of making my writing public gave way to joy at the thought of sharing this adventure with friends and fellow pilgrims. Who understands the paths of the heart?

I realized the matter was settled when I began considering titles.  What would be a good title for a blog on the theme of pilgrimage?  or a retreat center ? or a house of prayer?  The next day it hit me; the title must come from Psalm 84.

The opening lines of Psalm 84 make it natural favorite for houses of prayer.

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord Almighty!
 My soul yearns, even faints,
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
    for the living God.
 Even the sparrow has found a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
    they are ever praising you.

My heart leapt when we first saw our new home on FM 1704 because the front portico was covered with swallows’ nests.  Surely that was a good sign for a house of prayer!

Personally, my favorite lines from the psalm have always been the middle ones about pilgrimage.

 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
 They go from strength to strength,
    till each appears before God in Zion

Valle Grande in New Mexico, my favorite valley. Photo by Thomas Cogdell.

Valle Grande in New Mexico, my favorite valley. Photo by Thomas Cogdell.

I cannot remember a time, even in early childhood, when I did not fantasize of seeing God face to face, of walking the streets of the New Jerusalem, of meeting the saints of old.  In this sense I believe my heart has always been set on pilgrimage.  But like all pilgrims, I have grown weary on the way – discouraged, thirsty, injured, lost. Thankfully, I have never failed to find springs in my Valley of Baca left by other pilgrims .  What would I have done without the scriptures? Without the writings of St. Teresa or C.S. Lewis or the stories of the saints?  Certainly I could not have carried on without the love and counsel and prayer of my friends. 

What could be more wonderful, delightful or satisfying than leaving springs in the desert as one walks in  company toward Zion?   The image reminds me of Good King Wenceslaus whose footprints warmed the snow for his faltering page.  Such grace seems too lofty a prayer, but when I read this psalm, I cannot deny it is my hope.  So we set out to Europe and to Elgin praying from Isaiah 58 that “the glory of the Lord will be our rearguard” for He is the only one who can make springs rise in the wilderness.

Throughout the month of May I will be writing about our trip to Europe and the saints travelling with us. I hope some of our friends in Austin will enjoy dropping in on us through the blog.  Better yet, maybe some of you will feel moved to join us in prayer. In time, I hope that some of you will share your own stories of pilgrimage here.