Forever pilgrims

Last week our parish celebrated the Conversion of St. Paul. Paul was a pilgrim of sorts: anyone whose life is about pressing on toward a goal, and forgetting what lies behind, is someone on the move. Paul’s life and witness tells me that he knew that God, too, is always on the move. Here’s a bit of what I had to say last Sunday:

For most of us, conversion is slow and subtle. This is as much true for whole communities as for individuals. Maybe more so. One of my favorite ways of talking about conversion in our Anglican tradition is the distinction between pickles and pop tarts.[1] More than a blinding flash of heat, light, or sweetness, we are converted and formed by swimming in holy brine, if you will, by showing up and engaging in weekly mass, daily office, and life shared in community over a long period of time. It is in this context that we might have glimpses of the reign of God, and discern our own calling as individual disciples and as a community.

(Paul’s furrowed brow is my favorite.)

Saint John Chrysostom reminds us that Paul’s philosophy can be summed up in the words “I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead.” This reminds me of Norman Lear, who said that the two words most important to his life and work were “over” and “next.”

One way to be faithful is to keep moving.

For years, the instruction to Paul to “Go into the city and there you will be told what to do” was on St. Paul’s parish letterhead, as an affirmation of our identity as an urban parish. It is good to remember, though, that once Paul got to the city, he sat there, blind, for days, with no idea what awaited him. Paul’s conversion includes waiting around for the Holy Spirit to reveal what’s next. It didn’t happen the moment he fell off his horse.

Anyone who has been on a pilgrimage knows that it is this combination of forward movement and waiting, clarity about God’s call and confusion about what to do and where to go next, that is part of the journey. May we all find eager and gracious companions along the way.

[1] This metaphor came from Ellen Charry at a 2003 Affirming Catholicism conference.