Monday, September 2, 2013

Pilgrimage and Presence

There's a wonderful old prayer, formatted below as a poem:

O God of peace, you
have taught us
that in returning
and rest
we shall be saved,
in quietness
and confidence
shall be our strength.
By the might
of your Spirit
lift us,
we pray,
into your presence,
where we may be still
and know
that you are God.

If you haven't already, take an unhurried moment to read, to move with these words at a pace where you neither get ahead of them or fall behind. 

If you find a word or phrase unhelpful do your best to translate them into something that’s truer for you. 

What else might you change to make this prayer a prayer that describes what takes you into Presence? 

I can imagine God might want to make changes too (though we can never be really sure what changes those might be)!

I experience this as a wonderful prayer. Almost every time I pray it, it functions for me like an incantation--like Gandalf chanting "Speak Friend And Open," at the Gates of Moria. If I slow down and move with these words, literally at the pace of comprehension, doors open, and I am present for Presence.

Lots of people used to invest lots of time and effort in order to come into Presence. People made pilgrimages to holy places. 'Holy Place' is how 'Sanctuary' translates. The thing that sanctifies a place is Presence

Read this snippet from an R S Thomas poem:

In cities that
   have outgrown their promise people
   are becoming pilgrims
   again, if not to this place,
   then to the recreation of it
   in their own spirits. 

We live at a time when people are becoming pilgrims to holy places in their own spirits. This doesn't mean we don't also find Presence in traditional sacred places. It's a both/and thing for many of us, though for some, for one reason and another, it's often necessary to make new paths.  Both old and new pilgrim paths move people toward Presence. And both take people into community and adventure. 

And both involve inspiration, effort and grace. But neither guarantees Presence—though it's very rare when Presence is not experienced on the way to and within the holy places of pilgrimage. 

Just slowing down and 'entering' the prayer at the beginning of this post is a kind of pilgrimage. The 'returning' describes a path we take and take and take. No guarantee of Presence. And yet....

And is on journeys like this, short or long, where we find the quieting and the stilling and the knowing that something in us is always longing for.