A Place to Stand

Pilgrim 2 001

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is across from Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land of Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the South, and the plain of the Valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar.

                        (Deuteronomy 34:1, 2)


                    … Now look down

                      and see how far the heavens have revolved.

 (Dante, Paradiso, Canto XXVII, ll.77-78; tr.   John Ciardi)



How do we get back on the Pilgrim Path? That’s the million dollar question. Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of question that allows for simple, easy answers; and to complicate matters even further, it’s entirely possible that the solution may turn out to be one thing for you and something else entirely for me.

Let’s not become discouraged on that account. After all, “difficult” isn’t the same thing as “impossible.” A complex problem isn’t for that reason an insoluble problem. At the very least we can draw up a plan and give it an earnest try.

In the “Pilgrim Path” entries that follow we will attempt, through a series of reflections on the hidden values of a “peregrinatory” life, to re-capture that elusive Something that Jacques Ellul, out of sheer aversion to the word “Christianity,” preferred to designate as “X”. We will experiment with a method of sloughing off the accretions of culture and the troublesome baggage of the past. We will make it our aim to lay hold of the sweet kernel that lies sleeping within the time-hardened husk. By these means we will seek to uncover anew the essence of Christ-following in its original, unadulterated, unsubverted form.

Our task will be to explore what it means To Be A Pilgrim: to follow the Master faithfully and single-mindedly, to live and work and make a positive contribution not by grasping for power or asserting ownership and control, but by “passing through” the world as humble, unassuming, service-minded strangers and sojourners.

To do this we need perspective – a place to stand somewhere outside of and away from everything we normally take for granted. To see clearly, to attain a bird’s-eye view, to gaze abroad without restraint, we have to get out of the narrow ghetto of our own “contemporary” world. At least for the moment, we must attempt to forget “what’s happening now” and breathe a different atmosphere.

The goal is to see ourselves, the human community, the world, and God Himself through different eyes: the eyes of people whose assumptions, presumptions, and entire frame of reference are not only distinct from but even foreign to our own. This is the splash of cold water in the face that’s so desperately required today. After all, if you can’t see the forest for the trees, there’s only one thing to do: get out of the forest.

But how? That’s the practical problem.

Some manage to get the job done by traveling widely, living abroad, and developing a truly “multicultural” outlook. They deserve our admiration and respect. The difficulty, of course, is that this option isn’t open to everybody. It may be attainable only by a favored few.

The other alternative is to take a trip of a different kind and spend some time rubbing elbows with the denizens of the past. But here we come up against an even more formidable obstacle. Mr. H. G. Wells to the contrary, nobody has yet found a way to build a working Time Machine.

Or have they?

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