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Where are you?
Life’s Pilgrimage
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home…1
The first book of the Bible is called Genesis (a Greek word for ‘beginning’), as it opens with the
words, ‘In the beginning’. Before we set out on pilgrimage it is necessary to reflect on who we are.
At the start of his life as a Christian, St Augustine prayed ‘that I know me: that I may know thee’. His
quest to know God was bound up with knowing himself, and we too need to understand ourselves in
a way that is not solely intellectual, but rather involves appreciating our whole being. This kind of
knowledge demands a deep loving relationship with oneself, with others and with God.
The first stage towards love is to know that we are loved and that we are loveable. And we surely
are, for God created each one of us out of love and for his love. The Book of Lamentations, which
could hardly be described as a book of joy, has this great gem: ‘But this I call to mind, and therefore
I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they
are new every morning; great is your faithfulness’ (Lamentations 3.21–23). These words in their turn
inspired John Keble to write:
New every morning is the love
Our wakening and uprising prove;
Through sleep and darkness safely brought,
Restored to life, and power, and thought.
And Thomas Obadiah Chisholm to rejoice:
Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand has provided,
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!2
We begin our pilgrimage assured of God’s love for us. But many setting out on this quest, though
they make a good start, then go off course. A midlife crisis is often about the sudden discovery that
we have lost our way: we feel as if we have entered a dark wood or a grey fog and are no longer
sure where we are going or to what purpose. Perhaps we have let other worldly things take over
and become possessed by our possessions. Then there are the people I have met who have a
genuine call and longing to proclaim God’s love, but who have lost their vision because they are
caught up in a mountain of paperwork, or email correspondence, or the arrangement of religious
services. Attending to tasks like these is not wrong; indeed, it is often necessary. But it’s dangerous
when such activities take our focus away from what we should hold most dear. We need to check
regularly to see if what we are doing is coming between us and our ‘true’ self, between us and our

loved ones, between us and our God. If this seems to be the case for you today, be reassured that
you can make a new start right now by remembering that ‘new every morning is the love’.
When we read the Bible, we should find ourselves challenged about how we live, how we relate to
others and how we relate to God. Time and again Scripture makes us think about who we are and
where we are. In Genesis (to begin at the beginning), we are faced with the mystery of creation and
our own being. There has been a tendency to describe creation as ex nihilo, that is, ‘out of nothing’,
in order to emphasize the power of our Creator God. But I cannot fully go along with that. If you are
created out of nothing, it is to nothing that you will return. Similarly, to say you are created ‘out of
dust and to dust you will return’ may be to state a physical fact, but it fails to convey the hope of the
resurrection or to recognize you are far more than a body. What I believe we need to understand is
that we are created out of God, out of his own being, out of love and delight, and that it is to God’s
love and delight that we will return. A regaining of this vision of a world in which we live and move
and have our being in a God who is ever present, will open our eyes to the reality we have very
often lost. Living in this reality is the purpose of any true pilgrimage undertaken (in the words of
many of the Celtic pilgrims) ‘for the love of God’.
But we do tend to be distracted travellers! There is so much calling for our attention, so much that is
pleasant to the eye and good to the taste. And as we can only learn as we go, it is easy to lose our
bearings and wander off in the wrong direction. We may have access to a welter of information
through smartphones, tablets and computers. However, these digital wonders, which help us extend
our lives in many ways, should nonetheless come with a health warning. They have altered the way
we interact with each other, the way we behave and the way we think. They have invaded most of
our homes in the guise of technology, and encouraged us to feel we must be available at all times.
English dictionaries now include the new word ‘fomo’, which is computer talk for the ‘fear of missing
out’. In one survey, 60 per cent of teenagers said they had to ‘keep in contact’ and were addicted to
their smartphones. But their ‘contact’ with the world can in fact make them less directly connected:
for example, they often send texts instead of speaking directly to one another, thus stunting the
development of their interpersonal skills. Indeed, it is suggested that young people’s personalities
and imaginative capacities are being affected by constant use of media gadgets. It is very sad to
hear someone boast about having many contacts and then realize that person spends much of his
or her time in self-imposed isolation. Such people’s knowledge of who they are is often low on the
agenda. Instead, being overloaded with both good and evil information from their technological ‘tree
of knowledge’, they have become lost, confused and reduced to living below their real capacity,
when they might be growing into the person they could be. The promises of unknown gains have
proved a snare: ‘forbidden fruit’ in the form of pornographic sites or ultra-violent movies can have a
harmful effect on young lives for a long time, if not forever. Resonances with events in the Garden of
Eden are all too apparent.
Let us reflect further now on Genesis. The first words in the Bible declare, ‘In the beginning… God’.
This is the base line of the creation story. It is not about how the world was made but about who
made it; is not about the process but about the maker, the persona behind and within it all. The
world is God’s. God is in control. God is Almighty. God gives life. It is only when you are aware of
these truths that you can live rightly in the world. Whether the world was made in six days or over
billions of years is not the issue. The breath-taking fact is that there is a creator of all and that this
creator delights in his world.
God gives the sky, the earth and the sea their names – not in the sense of assigning particular
terms, but through bestowing on them the power to exist and their unique nature. From the smallest
particle to the galaxies, the ‘name’ of something denotes its very essence. Without God it would
have no esse, no being; it would not exist. Just as we give names to things or creatures that belong
to us, in naming, God shows creation belongs to him. ‘God created humankind in his own image, in
the image of God he created them; male and female he created them’ (Genesis 1.27). I can
remember being fascinated at school by the chemical make-up of humans: a mixture of carbon,

hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, a little calcium, a bit of iron and a spattering of other ordinary elements.
I asked myself, is that all? I was delighted to find a more fun description that explained the average
adult is made up of enough iron to make a four-inch nail, enough fat to make a few bars of soap,
enough sugar to fill a sugar bowl, enough potassium to make a small explosion, enough
phosphorus to manufacture 200 match heads and enough lime to whitewash a small shed. These
constituents could be bought then for only a few pounds. However, I was aware that it took more
than a few material things to make a human being. Chemistry and physics told only part of the story.
Genesis chapter 2 adds more: ‘Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and
breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and the man became a living being’ (Genesis 2.7). Here
is something else. We are created of earthly elements – and the material facts helpfully remind us of
our fragility and our limited time on this planet – but through the miracle of life, by the love of God,
we arise from the dust of the earth a living being, a unique individual, made by God for his glory. In
older translations of Genesis, the human being becomes a living soul through the breath of God. We
do not possess a soul; we are a soul – body, mind and spirit. We may talk as if these are separate
entities but they are all part of one being. Back at school, I abhorred the idea of dissecting frogs,
because that was about analysing a dead thing that no longer swam or leapt or sang in the pond: it
had lost a special part of its being – life! If we are not careful, analysis can do the same to poetry, to
literature and to the human being: each has a totality, an otherness that cannot be fully captured.
You may prefer the word ‘person’ to ‘soul’, but whichever word you use, it should help to remind you
that you are a united being.
There is still more: ‘God created humankind in his image; in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them’ (Genesis 1.27).
We are the icon of God. On the computer screen, an icon serves to lead us to what is behind the
icon, to what it represents. You may like to keep this in mind when you consider how we learn to
approach the mystery of God: it is through the mystery of ourselves. When we discover that our own
being, in all its fullness, is simply beyond our human understanding, we can begin to find within us –
and to see in others – the mystery of God. This should fill us with awe but not arrogance. As icons
we cannot treat each other with disrespect or neglect; rather we should celebrate the special nature
each of us individually has been given, our ‘otherness’, which reflects the great ‘other’ who is God. If
you fail to be yourself a light goes out on the earth, a light that only you can give. You can certainly
learn from others and thus gain insights and expand your talents, but God does not want you to be
a copy of another person. We each of us experience life in our own way and have our own story to
tell, our own song to sing and our own love to share. This is our awesome journey, our pilgrimage of
life. If we try to inhabit someone else’s story, we simply become play actors and cease to be
ourselves. This the Bible calls hypocrisy.
The Genesis story has a wonderful description of God coming to Adam and Eve ‘in the cool of the
day’ or, as a more direct translation of the Hebrew says, ‘in the wind of the evening’. I often notice a
gentle breeze around sunset, which reminds me that God comes not in power but in gentleness, not
to force us to give him our attention but to invite us to enjoy his presence. The question addressed
to Adam and Eve, ‘Where are you?’ (Genesis 3.9), is primarily about humankind’s relationship to
God. He calls us by name and seeks a relationship with us, asks us personally to realize who we
are, where we are, and the effects of what we are doing. If you are a stranger to yourself, it is not
likely you will get to know the living God. Rather, as we’ve come to see, our way into the great other
is through the mystery of ourselves. Without awareness and the paying of attention, we drift through
life. Paying attention means attending to things or people and celebrating their existence. Our
awareness of God most often comes through a deeper perception of what is around us. When we
open our eyes to the beauty and diversity of our world and our hearts to the mystery of our being,
we become aware of a ‘beyond’ in our midst. I often think of the opening lines of Gerard Manley
Hopkins’s poem ‘God’s Grandeur’:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.
God acts through the things of this world and yet he transcends all. Insensitivity to the world and to
those around us makes us unresponsive to God. There can be no true worship or pilgrimage until
the eyes are opened, and one of the major tasks of all leaders in the faith is to open the eyes of the
blind. Rather than simply filling people with knowledge, we need to help them see and recognize
themselves as individuals, for it is only when we are assured that we have a self to offer that we will
be able to give this to others. God calls to every human, as he called to Adam, ‘Where are you?’
This can be scary if we have not really got to know ourselves and are afraid to emerge out of
‘hiding’. All true relationships draw us out of our shell, but there is tension involved, as D. H.
Lawrence shows in ‘The Egotist’:
The only question to ask today, about a man or a woman,
is: Has she chipped the shell of her own ego?
Has he chipped the shell of his own ego?
They are all perambulating eggs going: ‘Squeak! Squeak! I am all things to myself,
yet I can’t be alone. I want somebody to keep me warm.’3
The call of God helps us grasp that life is far richer than we ever dreamed. Much of the time we
exist below par, failing to be what we are created to be, a state which the Bible calls sin. A sense of
pilgrimage begins to come to the fore when we feel called by God to arise to a more aware and
loving life. Our journey should lead us to know that we are loved, and are loved with an everlasting
love. Righteousness, or right relatedness, is not about being perfect or about what we may achieve,
but about living in a right relationship with God through his grace. This can only happen because he
calls us to himself. Heed the words of Psalm 95, ‘Today if you hear his voice harden not your heart’.
We can hide behind prayers and church services when God longs for us to come to him personally.
You may like to consider if the words from ‘The Hound of Heaven’ by Francis Thompson apply to
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat – and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet –
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’
Long ago, the prophet Hosea declared that God said: ‘For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings’ (Hosea 6.6). To learn this can be the beginning of
the awesome journey, the beginning of the exciting pilgrimage of life. God does not leave us when
darkness descends, as it does from time to time in every life; rather he remains with us, ‘our light
and our salvation’.
1 Pray

Come I this day to the Father,
Come I this day to the Son,
Come I this day to the Holy Spirit powerful;
Come I this day with God,
Come I this day with Christ,
Come I this day with the Spirit of kindly balm.4
2 The 5p exercise
Pause Put out of your mind that you are too busy! You have time to stop, time to be still, time to give
your mind a rest. Let your heart, your whole being, be open to what comes to you. Relax each part
of your body in turn. Breathe gently and deeply. If your mind wanders, bring it back to the stillness,
perhaps with the words, ‘God, here am I’. This action alone is good for your being.
Presence God seeks you. God calls you. God is with you. It is not so much the case that you are
waiting on God, as that he is waiting on you. God wants a living relationship with you. In the space
you have created, seek to rest in him and to be open to him. If there appear to be no words, no
presence, just be still and let God refresh you.
Picture Read Genesis 3.8 –13. Try to picture the scene – it is one of confrontation and challenge.
Adam and Eve have misused the great freedom they have been granted by choosing to follow their
appetites and doing what they want. Becoming self-centred damages all their relationships and
changes the world around them. God has to call and search for Adam because Adam is hiding due
to feelings of guilt. His loving wife is now ‘the woman you gave me’, and Eve also seeks to place the
blame for her choice elsewhere. Similarly, in the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father’s elder son
angrily refuses to call the prodigal his brother, referring to him instead as ‘that son of yours’. When
loving relationships break down, we debase ourselves, other people, the world and God. Yet even in
these difficult times, God seeks us. Try to explore this idea by picturing God seeking you right now.
Ponder What are you hiding behind? The question to Adam is relevant to us all. We frequently hide
from God and from the reality of what is happening in our lives. But though Adam turned away from
God, God did not turn away from him. God still comes and abides with those who ignore him,
disobey him, betray him, or are simply too busy to bother about him. And he comes not in
condemnation but in love. God is always on speaking terms with us. He cares when we feel guilt
and shame and longs to forgive us. Though we seek to fill ourselves, chasing pleasure and self-
gratification, he knows that only he can provide real satisfaction. But he does not want us to shut out
the world any more than he wants us to shut him out. Rather, God wants us to work with him and to
let him work through us.
Promise you will turn towards the living God each day, and offer yourself to him as he gives himself
to you.
3 Final prayer
Use these well-known words of St Augustine of Hippo:
Lord you have created us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in you.
Taken from THE AWESOME JOURNEY by David Adam

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