The Saunter with God
How is your Lent going? It is hard to evaluate, maybe impossible. Like life, we have our own ideas of how things should go, and stuff happens. In reality, God’s grace does the healing, and His Grace is in the Life of the Church. Our part is to simply open ourselves to it. So how is God’s Grace working right now?
The next few weeks mark the most significant days of the year. We have Passion Sunday when we veil our icons. Palm Sunday follows, a day of jubilation that ends in the most sombre moments of Lent. One day follows another in Holy Week and we arrive at Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and our Holy Saturday Pascha Vigil.
It does not end here. It is a tragedy that many Christians in our times have lost the significance of Paschaltide. We fast and meditate through Lent, and forget everything with the Resurrection. After Holy Week comes Bright Week, one long-extended Paschal celebration, and Bright Week leads us into the 40 days of Paschaltide.
What do we make of all this? A few days ago, I stumbled across a short line by John Muir. He was a Scottish-American who lived from 1838 to 1914, and spent his life scaling mountains. A naturalist, philosopher, botanist, and explorer, the “Father of the National Parks” gave this short bit of advice in his journal:
“Hiking - I don't like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not hike! Do you know the origin of that word 'saunter?' It's a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, "A la sainte terre,' 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them.”
Lent and Pascha are our Holy Land, and we need to saunter through them.
We should not hike them, trampling along to get to a destination. Each step is significant in itself. If you walk too fast on a hike you will miss everything profound. All the little flowers tucked in crevices, the lichen on the stones, and the shades of light — all of it. It is no different in our spiritual journey.
We find ourselves in a fight during Lent. The individual wrestles with the reality of his or her addictions and insecurities. The Christian community suffers through grumbling, gossip, and even slander. It is like clock work. Everyone carries baggage with them in every Christian community, and when we are not tending to our heart, the devil gets inside.
“You have been grieved by various trials,” St. Peter writes to the Church, “So that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1: 6-7).
Lent is a time of dying.
Then Pascha arrives — Pascha, the most holy season! Everything is beautiful during Pascha. The Church hymn sings out:
“Now all things have been filled with light, both heaven and earth and those beneath the earth. So let all creation sing Christ’s rising, by which it is established."
At Pascha we dip into the glory of Christ’s resurrection. How do we need to go about Pascha? We need to just soak it all in. Lent is a time for fasting. Pascha is time for feasting. Lent is a time for detaching from pleasures. Pascha is a time for reattaching, with a new heart, a joyful heart. Each and every day of Lent is a day for repenting. Each and every day of Pascha is a day for giving thinks.
“After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down’” (John 6:1-10).
You know the rest of the story. Indeed, what good can come from a few barley loaves and two fish? What good can come from your little efforts in Lent and Pascha? Everything. So soak it all in. Don’t make it a hike. Make it a saunter.