Pilgrim 2 001

                 “Be it done to me according to Thy word.”

                          —Mary, Luke 1:38

* * * * * * * * * *

“Heroism” is at a premium nowadays.  Perhaps that’s because everybody is so painfully aware that we live in a decidedly unheroic age.  News commentators are quick to slap the label “hero” on all kinds of unsuspecting victims:  firefighters who fight fires, police officers who fight crime, airline pilots who land airplanes in difficult situations, and lots of other workers who simply do their best to carry out the tasks they’ve been trained to perform.

You’ve probably noticed that most of these people deny being “heroes.”  From a certain perspective they’re absolutely right ­– after all, there’s nothing especially “heroic” about doing your job.  But in another sense it would be fair to say that their humble protests are out of place here.  Their modesty, however commendable, is in this case merely irrelevant.  That’s because real heroism isn’t about doing something.  It’s about being done to.  The true “hero” is not the person who drums up enough gumption, courage, or initiative to charge into the breach and tackle the impossible.  He’s just an ordinary human being to whom something extraordinary happens – and who does his best to respond in the only way he knows how.

This kind of “heroism” is what Pilgrim passion is all about.  Passion is a word that has been widely misunderstood.  Like vision, it’s been reinvented in our time to suit the needs and interests of corporate America.  In this case, the original significance has been all but completely obscured.  In the minds of most of our contemporaries, passion is associated primarily with erotic ardor, intense excitement, enthusiasm, uncontainable emotion, and (as a result) decisive action.  But these are only secondary derivations of the word’s root meaning.

The Latin noun passio (a cognate of the Greek pathos) is associated with the verb patior, “to undergo, suffer, endure.”  In English the original meaning is best preserved in the phrase “The Passion of the Christ.”  Christ was not passionate in the way a modern-day lover, salesman, junior executive, or football coach is “passionate.”  He was passionate in the sense that He endured suffering and agony.  Something huge and horrific happened to Him, and He responded by receiving it.  It’s conceivable that He might not have chosen this path of His own accord – indeed, He prayed earnestly in the garden that the cup might pass from Him.  But in the end He accepted it because there was no other way to go.  In the same way, the passionate person is not the one who gets himself sufficiently fired up to take the bull by the horns and rush right in where angels fear to tread.  On the contrary, the passionate person is passive.  The two words are intimately related.

Perhaps we should have made this point clear before ever setting out on our journey.  No one takes the Pilgrim path of his own volition.  Who would embrace meekness, weakness, madness, selflessness, emptiness, defeat, and death of his own free choice?  No one; as Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “No man can choose such a life for himself.  No man can call himself to such a destiny.”[i]  The Pilgrim does it for one reason and one reason only:  something happens to him.  Something compels him.  Something convinces him that there is no alternative, no other pathway open to him.  He makes this terrible choice because he is chosen.  He hears the insistent and uncompromising call – “Follow Me!” – and realizes that it will not go away until it meets with compliance.

This, in the parlance of the Pilgrim, is what it means to be passionate.  Pilgrim passion is a matter of being cornered and conquered by the relentless Hound of Heaven.  It’s about saying, as Peter said in response to his Master’s challenge, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You alone have the words of eternal life.”


[i] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship.


Nothing More to Say

Poet's Corner 001

Nothing More to Say 

(Regretful Lines Written To an Old Friend)


I would have been your friend, nothing more,  

           If you’d have let me in;

But friendship knocks in vain upon your door.

            It seems you play to win,

Or not at all.  And when I would not dance

            To suit the tune you play,

The jig was up.  And so I lost my chance.

            There’s nothing more to say.


You seem so cold, as cold as Snowdon’s dome,

            As cold as the snow-bound hills

From whence you came.  This never was your home,

            Nor could it be.  The frills

That thrilled you so much at the first must lose

            Their grip and so give way

To offers of better things.  You can’t refuse.

            There’s nothing more to say.


And yet I fear for you if you’re so blind

            That you can’t see the hurt,

The dust of disillusion left behind,

            The trust that must revert

To barren if not bitter soil; for when

            A day is called a day,

If one can’t call a friend a friend, well then,

            There’s nothing more to say.


Power, position, influence, a name

            Loom large on your horizon

You plan, you plot; you subtly make your aim

            Successful.  You’ll surprise them

As you surprised us.  Words once lightly spoken

            Have lightly blown away

Like waterless clouds.  When promises are broken,

            There’s nothing more to say.


I see it all so clearly now, but find

            Great comfort in the vision;

I think of what I might have left behind

            And rest in my decision.

For when we’ve cut through all the frills and fluff,

            When the hymns have all been sung,

The goal of Ministry seems plain enough:

            Climb up another rung.


There’s nothing more to say; and yet, somehow,

            I must extend my line.

I miss the friend I never knew; and now

            I fear the loss is mine.

God grant that we might each one die to pride

            And bend each to the other,

And whether here or on the Other Side,

            Grow friends as well as brothers.



 The van is here.  They trundle you away.

            Already you are gone.

At heart.  I fumble for the words to say

            To you; but there are none.


I took my pen and wrote, but it betrayed

            My baser, meaner thoughts.

Can a leopard, short of being flayed,

            Expect to change its spots?



The Firebird V

Body 001


A long time passed. After a while, I raised my eyes to the window – but of course the window was no longer a window but a mirror. There I was confronted once again with the strange reflection of myself. Immediately the pain in my chest flared up and caused me to cry out in desperation. Clearer and clearer grew the image in the glass. I could see that the princess’s robe was open in front, revealing a deep wound in her heart, and I saw that she, too, wept. But she did not seem to weep as one without hope.

Perched alongside the mirror was the small gray bird. In the depths of his blue eyes burned two tiny, clear, red flames. He looked at me, and the warm, comforting glow welled up in my heart, though curiously the pain did not subside in the least. On the contrary, it remained steady, mingling strangely with the warmth.

But the oddest of all these odd things was yet to come. For out of the corner of my eye I now saw lying on the floor beside me the form of a body, dark and still as the night outside. When I stooped down to examine the face, I was astonished to find that it was my own. At this discovery, the warmth and pain swelled and mingled in my breast once again. But I was not unprepared this time.

Though I could not recall the passage, I felt certain that something I’d read in the little book had forewarned me of this: I was dead, and yet I lived. At the thought, I laughed out loud. So hard did I laugh that the tears ran down my face. Or perhaps I should say that I wept hysterically. Which, I cannot tell.

The little gray bird cocked his head at me and nodded solemnly. Then he sprang from the window sill and flew three times around the room. At the end of the last circuit he made straight for the mirror which had once been my bedroom window. To my amazement, he passed clean through. Without thinking, I bent down, lifted the body that lay on the floor, and carried it after him.

 * * * * * * * * * *





The Firebird IV


Face in the Mirror 2 001


At length I awoke, shocked to discover that I was alive. Beside me where I lay on the floor was a little book. Taking it up and opening it, I found myself looking into a small mirror attached to the inside of the front cover.

How strange was the image I saw reflected there! In one sense it seemed plain and ordinary enough – easily recognizable as myself. But in another way it was not like me at all. It was marked by a beauty, a depth, and a radiance which I found nothing short of astonishing. At the same time, it was laced with an ugliness I cannot describe except to say that it left me with a feeling of foreboding.

I turned away from the book and looked to the window. Outside all was dark. Gone were the moon and the star. There on the sill sat the small gray bird with still blue eyes. I stared at it dully for a moment, then caught my breath at a sudden new discovery: where I had expected to see shards of broken glass, I found instead bars of iron across my window.

I spun around to face the opposite wall. It also held a large mirror in which I discerned the same disturbing reflection of myself. It was the image of a princess, a beautiful princess whose loveliness had been marred in some way – precisely how, I could not tell. I think it was in her eyes that I saw it.

Again I turned away, but it was no use. All of the walls were hung with mirrors. They had, in fact, become large mirrors themselves, as had the ceiling and the floor. Above, below, and on every hand I was surrounded by disturbing images of myself. Even the window offered no relief. When I looked in that direction, I found that it, too, had become a sheet of bright reflective glass.

Alone with these awful reflections, I again became aware of the little book. Picking it up, I began to turn its pages and to read what was written there.

This led to a new discovery. I had quite forgotten about the deadly wound I had received from the Firebird, but now it came rushing back into my consciousness. For as I read, a burning sensation began to grow within my chest, low and smoldering at first, but increasing by the moment. I noticed that as I pondered certain passages in the book this burning became a mellow glow that filled my heart with warmth and comfort; but as I read others, it turned instead to a hot stinging pain, so that I could not help but cry out because of it. In spite of this, the words of the book so held me that I read on and on.

* * * * * * * * * *



The Firebird III

Firebird 001


 Once more he reached into the sack.  When he withdrew his hand, I saw perched upon his finger a small gray bird with eyes of piercing blue.  It was not a pretty bird.  But for its eyes it seemed to me quite drab.  I did not understand the still depths in its eyes.

“Do you know this bird?” he asked.

“No,” said I.

“This bird,” he said, “will serve quite well to bring you out to me.  For he is the Persuader.”

At that he gave a sudden jerk with his arm.  The bird fluttered upwards and burst into flames above his head.  I was dazed by a loud crack and a bright flash as of lightning.  The glass of the window shattered and I was thrown back violently into the room.

When next I looked up I saw the bird dazzlingly transformed.  To look upon it was as to look upon the sun.  It was huge and bright, like the legendary Firebird.  Its wings were two outstretched flames, its beak large and sharp as a sword.  I saw it hovering, poised in mid-air just outside my window.

Beyond it, at a safe distance, the moon and star timidly peeped out from behind the bank of clouds.  I could not speak; I could not utter a sound.  In an instant the flaming bird was upon me.  Already with its terrible beak it had pierced my heart.  I was stricken with a deadly pain.  Smoke and red fire filled my eyes and then gave way to darkness.  I knew no more.


* * * * * * * * * *

The Firebird II

Father Christmas 001


Then he opened up his sack.  It was filled with gifts, and somehow I knew that they were all meant for me.  I wished with all my heart that I might get a better look at them; but still I would not go out to him.

He beckoned to me kindly, saying, “Come and see for yourself.”  The things I saw there through the glass were not such as I would have asked for myself, nor could I ever have envisioned them even in my wildest dreams, yet I felt as if I had always wanted them.  Nothing in that sack was anything you have ever seen or imagined.  I was filled with wonder, but did not understand what I was seeing.

I turned my face away from the window.  “I will come another time,” I said.  “I am not dressed for the out-of-doors.  See – I am in my night things.  I will come with you when I am better prepared.”

“Better prepared,” he said to me, “you will never be.”


 * * * * * * * * *


Books 001

“In human art, Fantasy is a thing best left to words, to true literature … Visible presentation of the fantastic image is technically too easy; the hand tends to outrun the mind, even to overthrow it.  Silliness and morbidity are frequent results.”

— J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories”


“Nothing can be more disastrous than the view that the cinema can and should replace popular written fiction.  The elements which it excludes are precisely those which give the untrained mind its only access to the imaginative world.  There is death in the camera.”

     — C.S. Lewis, “On Stories”  


Christmas Tree 001

“When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and knew that they had been with Jesus.”

     — Acts of the Apostles, IV:13

 * * * * * * * * * * * *

Christmas Eve, 724 A.D. Yule to the German tribes gathered at Geismar to offer winter sacrifices. A group of cold and weary Pilgrims, wrapped to the eyes in fur, their legs and feet bound with skins, come trudging out of the Hessian forest. At their head strides Winfrith (a.k.a. Boniface), far-traveled native of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex.

Staff in hand, he leads his brother peregrini through the knee-deep snow into a wide clearing tinted red by the leaping flames of a vast bonfire. Black against the ruddy glare stand several hundred Thuringian Saxons, their backs to the open glade and the advancing travelers. Above their heads, the shadows of its bare branches twisting weirdly in the lurid and smoky light, the massive Donar Oak towers into the night sky.

“Friends!” cries Winfrith in the Saxon tongue, elbowing his way to the front of the murmuring crowd. “A kinsman claims your hospitality.”

Instantly every eye is upon him. With a single glance he takes in the forbidding scene: the great tree; the leaping fire; before the flames a large black stone; upon the stone a fair-haired youth; above the youth a black-robed priest; in the priest’s hand a knife of polished stone.

“What kinsman?” demands the priest. “Who dares interrupt these solemnities?”

“A kinsman bearing good news,” Winfrith replies. “News of redemption and release!”

At this word the youth upon the stone raises his head and fixes his eyes upon the speaker. But Winfrith does not return his gaze. Instead, nodding to his followers, he deftly draws a broad-axe from his belt. Bright blades gleam from beneath the cloaks of his two foremost companions. German cries ring out in response to the stranger’s apparent challenge. German swords fly singing from their scabbards.

But Winfrith and his men have not come to fight the Saxons. Their eyes are upon the Oak. Grim and unspeaking, they make a mad dash for the tree. Their axe-helves are up, their broad blades are swinging, bright in the coppery light. Chips fly and swords clatter as hundreds of angry Saxons descend upon them with shouts.

“Sacrilege!” cries the frenzied priest. “Thor, take vengeance! The tree is sacred to Thor!”

“Kill the blasphemers!” cry the frantic tribesmen as the sacrificial victim disappears into the wood. A bearded chieftain aims a powerful blow at Winfrith’s head, but he ducks beneath the blade and leaps to the far side of the Oak. A moment later the Pilgrims are entirely surrounded.

Suddenly the din of conflict is swallowed up in a sound like that of mighty rushing waters. A wind like a wave of the sea sweeps over the surrounding forest. It catches in the branches of the Donar Oak. The tree trembles and groans; and then, as Thuringians and Englishmen alike strive to leap clear of its shuddering bulk, the great trunk splits with a loud crack and crashes to the ground.

Stunned, the Saxons stand bewildered and mute. The black-robed priest falls fainting across the stone. Once more all eyes are trained upon the Pilgrim. But they regard him now with looks of fear and wonder instead of vengeful hate.

“Fear not!” shouts Winfrith, leaping to the top of the stone and pointing at the shards of the shattered Oak. “Look! See what grows among the splinters!”

Everyone looks. Something small, green, and fragile stands trembling amidst the wreckage of the fallen giant: a tiny fir tree, no taller than a child of six winters.

“A green shoot from the dead stump!” cries the Englishman. “Just as the prophet foretold, Christ the Seed has become Christ the Branch! My friends, I charge you now! Take this little fir tree into your homes! Deck it with candles in commemoration of the Haeland’s birth! Sing, dance, and rejoice! For the darkness is past and the light is dawning!”

And strange to say, instead of taking Winfrith’s head, the Saxons do exactly as he proposes.*

Pilgrim 2 001


* Based on “The First Christmas Tree,” by Henry Van Dyke.

The Firebird I

Candle 001

The Firebird:  A Christmas Fantasy

Psalm 126 001


On Christmas Eve I did not sleep, but stayed up late to watch.  The moon was high and bright and one star shone low in the sky.  At my window I watched them rise up from the black trees.  But for the candle in the corner the room was softly dark.

A little breeze stirred the dry dead leaves outside, but nothing else moved.  I watched the star shiver alone in the moonlight.  I saw the moonlight playing in the treetops.  I sat like this, alone, for a long, long time.

The candle burned low and dim.  Halfway up the sky the lonely star chased the moon, and I knew that the night had grown older and deeper.  The breeze died and the leaves outside my window fell still.  I watched and waited.

At length I saw him coming, up through the shadows on the lawn.  Slowly he came, bent beneath his heavy sack.  A light of neither moon nor star was all about him and clung to him as he came.  The candle in the corner grew suddenly bright.

The star peeped out through a window in a cloudbank behind which the moon had taken cover.  He came and laid a hand upon the window sill.  I faced him through the glass.

“Come out and follow me,” he said.

But I was afraid.

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

“Work?!?!!” (Maynard G. Krebs)


It is assumed by most people nowadays that all work is useful, and by most well-to-do people that all work is desirable.   Most people, well-to-to or not, believe that, even when a man is doing work which appears to be useless, he is earning his livelihood by it — he is ’employed’ as the phrase goes; and most of those who are well-to-do cheer on the happy worker with congratulations and praises, if he is ‘industrious’ enough and deprives himself of all pleasure and holidays in the sacred cause of labor.  In short, it has become an article of the creed of modern morality that all labor is good in itself — a convenient belief to those who live on the labor of others.  But as to those by whom they live, I recommend them not to take it on trust, but to look into the matter a little deeper.

        — William Morris, “Useful Work versus Useless Toil.”     

Books 001

The Dancer VIII



The little dancer woke to see the city skyline standing black against a red-gold glow in the east. Directly above her head the Morning Star still shone bright. Behind her, in the west, the silver sliver of a new and waxing moon hung like a bright scythe in the sky. Beside her lay her friend, still, cold, and pale as the snow in which she lay. The dancer touched her hand. It was cold, cold as clay, cold as the pavement beneath her.

Not one thought of any kind crossed her mind. Not the slightest ripple of motion stirred the stillness of her heart. Not one tear fell from her eye as she sat holding her friend’s hand and watching the light in the eastern sky.

Suddenly one bright shaft of gold shot out from behind a distant spire. Then up jumped the sun’s topmost curve and a thousand rooftops flashed in the instant brightness.

An indescribable calm lay upon the dancer’s heart. The winter sun rose with quiet thunder. And as she sat gazing at it, there within the circle of its glory she saw a face – the face of her friend.

And now the Voice came to her once more, but still and soft this time, and full of quiet peace.

“Dance!” it almost whispered.

The little dancer stirred. She looked from the face in the sun to the face in the snow beside her.

“Was it you all along?” she asked. “Was it your voice I heard in the green hills and in the misty glens?”

“No,” came the gentle answer. “In dancing with the little girl you danced with me. And yet I am not the little girl, nor is her voice my voice.”

“Who are you, then?” she asked in amazement.

“I am the Dance!” came the reply. “Together you have danced well. Together you have won the prize. Very soon now you shall see my face.”

The sun was well above the rooftops now. Bright and blue grew the wide sky and all the earth sparkled in the new light.

The dancer smiled, contented. And then she too lay down and slept in peace.






Pilgrim 2 001

“… There is yet a time of rest in store for the world, when mastery has changed into fellowship – but not before.”

                                    — William Morris, News from Nowhere.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Foundational to the American doctrine of rights is the concept of equality.  As Jefferson has it in The Declaration of Independence:  “All men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”

This is a purely political statement which has nothing to do with reality.

It should be perfectly obvious to even the most obtuse among us that all men are not created equal – that is to say, the same.  The “equality” envisioned in this time-honored, all-hallowed, never-to-be-questioned assertion is simply “equality before the law.”  One might even go so far as to call it a legal fiction.

Legal fictions, of course, are matters of little or no consequence to the Pilgrim.  That’s because the Pilgrim, as a stranger and sojourner in the kosmos, cares nothing about politics and law.  He takes his cues from another quarter altogether.

The purpose of equality before the law isn’t difficult to discern.  It’s a protective measure:  a defensive weapon to be used against enemies who seek to gain mastery over me and promote their agenda and interests at my expense.  It’s the hill on which I take my stand against hostility and aggression, the barricade behind which I hide in my attempts to fight off your ill-willed efforts to demean, enslave, or impoverish me.  “Step off!” it says.  “Get back!  Keep your hands off me and my stuff!  I’m every bit as good as you are!”  We cling to this doctrine of equality primarily out of fear.  We need it desperately because we operate on the assumption that ours is a world in which everybody is constantly trying to dominate everybody else.   Unfortunately, it’s a pretty fair assessment of the situation.

But the Pilgrim, as we have said, wants no part of all this.  He does not belong to the kosmos.  On the contrary, he lives his life as part of a community that operates on the basis of a very different set of rules and assumptions.  It’s a community made up of refugees and foreigners, people from another place and time, tramps and travelers encamped in the middle of an alien society who, in spite of adversity and criticism, continue to speak a different language and cling to the tenets of a different culture.  They are a colony, an embassy, a rebel outpost in occupied territory.  And within the context of this strange outlandish sub-culture they have no need for “equality.”  They have no need of it for the simple reason that they have no interest in dominating or mastering one another.  Instead of the law of “equal rights,” Pilgrims live by the rule of koinonia.

Koinonia means “sharing.”  It’s the state of “holding something in common.”   The Greek word is most frequently translated into English as “fellowship” – though, if it weren’t for negative historical, political, and social baggage, we might possibly understand it as referring to a form of voluntary “communism.”[1]  The basic idea here is summed up in the New Testament’s teaching that, in Christ, “we are members of one another” – parts of the same body – so that what affects and concerns you affects and concerns me.  Most importantly, koinonia takes it for granted that we are not all “equal” or alike – no more than a hand is like an eye or a head like a foot.  This is the assumption upon which it operates.  In koinonia we supplement, complement, fill up, and balance one another’s strengths and weaknesses.  You supply what is lacking in me.  I supply what is lacking in you.

“Bear one another’s burdens,” writes Paul, chief of sinners and Pilgrims, in his letter to the Galatians.  In another place, he says, “We who are strong ought to bear with the weak, and not to please ourselves.”  There is no question here of competition, no room for domination.  In the words of the Master Himself, “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.”

All men are created equal.  When you stop and think about it for a moment, this well-worn axiom begins to ring with near-Huxleyan overtones.  It’s the law of survival in the jungle of the kosmos:  a cold, impersonal rule calculated to ensure the peace, prosperity, and happiness of the Brave New World.  And so, perhaps, it must remain until the kosmos is no more.

As for the Pilgrim, he has ceased from all such strife, for he lives in a kingdom where the first are last and the last first, and where every member lives and thrives by lending to and leaning upon every other.

It’s a vision of an entirely different order.




[1] It’s not without reason that the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer labeled Marxism “a Christian heresy.”  Pure Marxism is essentially a vision of Christian koinonia without Christian inspiration or motivation – in other words, without Christ Himself.  It’s no coincidence that there is such a striking resemblance in wording between Acts 2:44, 45 – “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need” – and the most famous of the early communist slogans – “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” See also Acts 4:32-35.