January 29, 2021
As I was writing last week, and investigating more about the “El Camino de Santiago,” I discovered that there is a Camino de Santiago Virtual Challenge. This involves a mobile app which guides you through the 480-mile virtual pilgrimage. This is a challenge that you pay for, at a cost of $34.95 in US dollars. The perks that this company offers, in addition to images and details of the journey along the Camino, are virtual postcards as you reach certain markers, and a finisher’s medal at the completion of the pilgrimage. The time frame for the experience is adjustable and a variety of distance-based exercises qualify for helping you to make the journey. While I don’t know that I would personally undertake this virtual pilgrimage, it is nice to know that it is offered. Their website is https://www.theconqueror.events/camino.
Just two days after I posted the blog for last week, I received my Christian Century magazine, which curiously enough included an article about a virtual pilgrimage of the Holy Land. This also involves the use of an app, but this experience is free. You are simply asked to provide the name of your congregation, and your name, in order to get started. This pilgrimage via the app was designed by St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church, which is located near Columbia, South Carolina. To build the app, they hired Greg Johnston, the rector of an Episcopal church in Massachusetts, a person who had previous experience in developing faith-based apps. If you should choose to download this app, you can find it in app stores under the name “Pilgrimage” by Greg Johnston. I did download this app, which, as I mentioned, was free. It includes photos, a guidebook, and the tracking of your progress either through steps or alternative activities. I am looking forward to experimenting with this virtual journey. You can read more about the story of it in the January 27, 2021 issue of the Christian Century, as well as by visiting the St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields website at www.smifsc.com/advent-pilgrimage.
I am not endorsing either of these programs or their apps. You can evaluate each of them yourself by visiting the respective websites. But I wanted to let you know that in addition to creating your own content as I have suggested in the last two blogs, there are both free and pay-for resources out there.
If you should choose, in one way or another, to use the theme of a pilgrimage during Lent, it would be interesting to have a gathering or two during the Lenten season in which people can have an opportunity to share their responses to their chosen pilgrimage, be it your own church’s one, or one of the apps mentioned above, or others that I am fairly certain are to be found as well. The sharing of the journey, the opportunity for people to reflect on their choices and their learnings, could be a powerful time, almost like a virtual retreat sharing.
January 22, 2021
Looking Ahead to Lent - 3
Two weeks ago I suggested that a Lenten journey could be one of following Jesus from place to place in the Gospel stories. Last week I offered the possibility of our walking a pathway, and specifically exploring a garden pathway of some sort.
As I imagine other possibilities, other pathways that could help to guide the journey toward Easter, one of them would be to use the idea of a pilgrimage. I envision this being one that would be literal, in the sense of helping people to views places and sights that might inform and inspire them, but also an internal pilgrimage that would be the center of their personal Lenten journey.
One place to make such a pilgrimage would be along the Via Dolorosa, the pathway that is equated with the walk that Jesus made toward the place of the crucifixion. When I walked a portion of it years ago, I was fascinated by the sights along the way, many of them being simply the ordinary shops and door fronts of that part of the city of Jerusalem. Of course, the deeper experience for me involved trying to envision Jesus having walked these same streets, of imagining what he was going through as he did so. The use of photographs, or of artifacts you may have from having visited yourself, will enhance this pilgrimage, and others as well.
Other places one could virtually visit on a pilgrimage are certainly without number. I have never been to Italy, but to visit various churches, to engage in viewing the artwork of those churches, to tell the stories of people who created the artwork or who experienced significant moments in the churches, could lead to fruitful reflection.
I did have the joy of visiting England years ago, and to make a similar pilgrimage there would offer many possibilities. To walk the cloisters of Abbeys or Cathedrals, to hear the singing in such places, to view the ornate stone carvings that grace most Cathedrals, would help to bring to life the pilgrimage on which you take your people.
If you have a congregation where people come from various parts of the world, you might invite submissions of photographs from them which depict places of reverence and beauty and meaning in their native countries. This could become a pilgrimage that not only leads to Easter, but one which brings your people closer together as they see and appreciate the larger life of one another.
As you prepare for such a journey, as you perhaps plan a pilgrimage of sorts for your people, one movie that offers insight into this theme is entitled, “The Way.” It is a story that begins with loss and pain, then evolves into the journey of the main character walking the “El Camino de Santiago,” and shows the depth of spiritual experience of this individual along the way. This is a movie that you could include in your own preparations for the season, and something that you could perhaps share with your congregation either via clips from the movie (remembering copyright issues) or through descriptions of the journey in sermons or via other means. Here again, photos of the “El Camino de Santiago” could enhance any portions of the story that you might share.
There is a sense in which the world is engaged in a collective journey as we deal with the pandemic and its impacts on all of us. To take that journey, that has so many negatives about it, and to move people toward a positive pilgrimage that brings us to Easter, may be a source of hope, of deep reflection, and even of joy.
January 15, 2021
Looking Ahead to Lent - 2
The image of a pathway through the Lenten season is another option that I am considering for this year. Rather than following Jesus as I suggested last week, in this case we would be tracking our own steps and noting both the marvels and mysteries along the way. While we are certainly making this journey as the world yet struggles with the Covid virus, and while we will certainly continue to lift up in prayer the world and individuals we know who have been affected by the virus, I envision not making that the centerpiece of the journey along a pathway. It will certainly affect our walk, but having noted that, what else can we discover during Lent that will be uplifting, that will give each of us insight into our relationship with God and Jesus, that will offer vision and hope?
We can certainly imagine a pathway in our mind that we can walk. We can invite people to create that pathway, either through specific suggestions or even using a guided meditation. But in this time when so many people are staying home, are unable to visit family and friends, it may be that people already have enough time to just sit and think. So, I am thinking of creating something more concrete for people in this coming season.
When our son was young, he and my wife and our daughter visited a nearby Botanical Garden a number of times. As they would walk the pathways of the Garden, he would stop to read the signs that were posted to identify the trees and plants. My wife was amazed that he not only read the English words, but also the Latin words. He didn’t know what many of the words meant, but it was a part of the journey that he discovered the signs and sought to draw meaning out of them.
In a better year, we could actually take a group of folks from the church and create an experience of wandering through that Botanical Garden. For this year though, I imagine offering a virtual walk through that same Garden. In this case the garden is currently closed, and I cannot go and take my own photographs. However, the Garden website has wonderful images that can be copied and used. As always, remember to, in some way, give credit to the source of any photos used, as well as to acknowledge any quoted portions of commentary from a website.
So, if we provide images and suggestions about walking a pathway through such a garden, then I would also want to connect this journey to biblical images and some of the activities of Jesus. While I would want the focus to be on each person’s journey, as distinct from my suggestions of last week about walking in the places where Jesus walked, I still want to make connections for people, which they can then pursue as they feel led.
An obvious connection to a garden is the creation story, as well as the one about Adam and Eve in the garden. While that can be an exciting exploration, and can involve a lot of imagination, I would be careful about the theological directions that can take, especially if we are trying to provide a walk toward hope and not toward judgment. But that is a possible connection.
The Psalms are also a rich source of text and images that could dovetail with photos of a garden. This would be an ideal opportunity to involve a number of people in the worship celebration. As images are displayed for all to see, readers can share portions of various Psalms. This then brings in the dynamic of sharing our journey with others, walking the pathway together, even though we can’t be physically together right now.
Finally, for this week, let me suggest that there are many ways in which to walk the garden and to connect that with our encounter with Jesus. Rather than focusing on specific stories as I suggested last week, this would be an opportunity to meet Jesus as he too is envisioned to be walking through the same garden. The flowers on the side of the path may connect us to the flowers that neither toil nor spin but are arrayed in beauty. Those same flowers might transport us to feel the earth and see the sky as we experience Jesus teaching on a hillside. And, of course, as Lent then draws toward a close, there is the Garden of Gethsemane, not so much in this case to see Jesus there, as to envision ourselves in a garden, walking the pathway and praying whatever prayers are pressing upon our heart.
These are suggestions about one possible pathway for our Lenten journey. I will explore a couple of others next week.
January 8, 2021
Looking Ahead to Lent
I am grateful for every person who takes the time to read what I post weekly. Since I do not know who all of you are, and where you live, I do know that some things, perhaps many things, need to be adapted by you as you go along. As I begin today to reflect upon the coming season of Lent, and our eventual celebration of Easter, I do so with an outlook here in California of almost assuredly moving through the Lenten and Easter seasons while still doing everything online, anticipating that in-person worship and activities are yet a few months away. Your situation may be different, the impact of the pandemic may not be as severe where you live and worship, and if so, then envision how things that I offer will be adapted for your setting. Hopefully we will all resume in-person worship by the summer months, although the added beauty of engaging people online will become a regular, wonderful mix of interactions for my church.
With this context in mind, even though we are just beginning the season of Epiphany, it seems wise to me to begin to think about Lent, which begins with Ash Wednesday on February 17th. As with so many other churches, we spent the last half of the Lenten season of 2020 trying to figure out how to do everything online, having been suddenly thrust into unfamiliar territory. As a result, I think that some of the creativity that would normally have gone into in-person Lenten services was sacrificed in order to just make sure that worship was happening in the best way possible.
So, with online worship now being much more familiar, to both our leaders and our members, we can plan to bring much greater creativity to this year’s Lenten season. It is not a new idea to envision a central theme for Lent as being that of a journey. I have used that theme several times through the years. But I think that it has the possibility of being particularly poignant this year, as so many people have had to cancel or delay trips, whether they be ones to see family or vacations planned to places near and far. To invite people on a Lenten journey might be a way to help them to travel with their imagination and thereby to experience some of the joy that traveling normally brings to us.
I have not yet decided how to shape that Lenten journey for my congregation, so I will be exploring several options in these next weeks, and offering suggestions that you might choose to use as well. A first, fairly simple journey would be to follow Jesus from place to place, telling the stories of his encounters with people through the use of maps, works of art and photographs.
The use of maps can signal that the experience is more of an education event than a worship experience, so they should be kept pretty basic. A map that shows the major cities of Galilee, or the environs around Jerusalem, gives people just enough information so as to orient themselves as they hear the stories told. To see the geographic areas helps to place the stories into concrete settings. And, even though most of us depend today on GPS navigation in one form or another, maps do give a sense of traveling in unknown territory.
There are certainly a great many works of art that have been created to re-tell these stories, often while placing the characters in the historical setting of the artist. While some people balk at such depictions as being unrealistic, it can open up a window for people to envision an encounter with Jesus in their own lives. In any case, visual art helps to create a larger experience for people.
Finally, while we all know the jokes that sometimes come when people show their vacation photographs, if you have ever visited the Holy Land then you can share a few of those photographs to a receptive audience. In fact, when I have done this in Bible study settings, people have taken great interest in my showing them places that I have actually been to. Of course, even if you haven’t been there, you will find plenty of available photographs of just about every setting where Jesus spent time, and for people to see these places as they would if they visited them today, gives the sense of an actual journey during the Lenten season of 2021.
January 1, 2021
As we begin a new year filled with both uncertainty and hope, spending some time reflecting on creativity, and the possibilities that can exist, may be fruitful. I speak here of creativity in whatever form is inspiring for you, and in whatever ways you find value and joy in using your creativity.
Visual artists reflect life, and also create life through their visions. They help us to see in new ways, and to imagine how things might be.
Architects envision what can be, before that work is ever begun. They strive to create places of permanence in a world that is often rapidly changing, as we are well aware of at this particular time.
Poets connect us with a deep spirit that evokes meaning and beauty and introspection. Poetry is such a diverse field, such that we can always find a poet and her or his works that touch us.
Novelists often create entire settings for their stories, imagining a world and inviting readers to enter into it. I enjoyed writing my short story for Advent, discovering things about myself even as I envisioned the characters interacting with one another.
Photography enables us to see in ways that we might otherwise ignore, and is a form of creativity that is open to all. Exploring the world through the lens of a camera inspires imagination and more.
Creativity is of course not limited to the arts. Creativity comes forth from parents who seek to inspire, motivate and encourage their children. Imagination serves us well as we create meals in the kitchen, as we decorate a home, as we plant a garden, and in so many more diverse and wonderful ways.
It is important to nourish creativity. That can happen through daily exercises in writing or sketching, through working with others to envision church programs, as we discuss ways to impact our communities, even as we sit still and reflect on life.
May 2021 be a year of great creativity in your life.
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