As we make our way ever-closer to the events of Holy Week I want to begin reflecting on our journey of faith more broadly using the metaphor of pilgrimage to explore discipleship. Pilgrimage is characterized by tidal shifts between orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. These moments happen daily (sometimes hourly) as we phase between living our faith on the solid ground of certitude, then to embracing the uncertainties of wilderness wandering, and as we come to renewed confidence in the “one triune God, the Holy One of Israel, whom alone we worship and serve.” [from A Brief Statement of Faith]
I use the “Pilgrim’s Compass” in my journey with God. It is meant to help me daily orient (and reorient) my life in relationship to the God who loves me. The very idea of a compass reminds me that I do not journey alone ("compass" derives from Latin words for "step together"). And further, that I am engaged in the task of orienteering — learning to read the map and notice the details of the surrounding terrain so as to make progress in getting where I desire to be.
Prior to the invention of the magnetic compass (something only perfected in the West in the late 12th century CE), maps tended to have a wide variety of “orientations.” That is to say, many maps did not have “N” for “north” at the top because there was no reliable way to ascertain a true-north heading. Though the subtlety of a magnetic reading came late to the process of orienteering, other natural objects were often used — none more frequently than the rising sun. The position of the rising sun was a (relatively) precise and fixed position. It was recognized, of course, that the sun dipped southward (at least in the Northern hemisphere) as you made your way to the Winter Solstice and that it moved incrementally back closer to a true east as you approached the two equinoxes. All of those considerations aside, it was still a helpful daily way to orient your map. You would arise with the sun, and orient you map toward it.
As far back as the third century the Bishop of Carthage (St. Cyprian) noted, “Christ is the true sun and the true day…”(quote from St. Cyprian's On The Lord's Prayer) And John Calvin, perhaps aware of Cyprian’s earlier work, includes in his prayers attached to the catechism of the church of Geneva the following lines:
“MY GOD, my Father and Preserver, who of thy goodness hast watched over me during the past night, and brought me to this day, grant also that I may spend it wholly in the worship and service of thy most holy deity. Let me not think, or say, or do a single thing which tends not to thy service and submission to thy will, that thus all my actions may aim at thy glory and the salvation of my brethren, while they are taught by my example to serve thee. And as thou art giving light to this world for the purposes of external life by the rays of the sun, so enlighten my mind by the effulgence of thy Spirit, that he may guide me in the way of thy righteousness . . . As I ought to make progress, do thou add daily more and more to the gifts of thy grace until I wholly adhere to thy Son Jesus Christ, whom we justly regard as the true Sun, shining constantly in our minds.”
So, this suggests a pattern. We begin and end our days with an intentional orientation and reorientation of our life toward Christ, who is our “true sun and true day.” This pattern, of course, is the ancient pattern of prayer, first given in the Shema Yisrael:
Deut. 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
On our pilgrimage journey, we arise and orient ourselves. And at day’s-end we reorient through the practice of the examen and in prayers anticipating that, as St. Cyprian so eloquently wrote:
“Likewise at sunset and the passing of the day it is necessary to pray. For since Christ is the true sun and the true day, when we pray and ask, as the sun and the day of the world recede, that the light may come upon us again, we pray for the coming of Christ, which provides us with the grace of eternal light…”
Daily Collect: Lord Jesus, our true sun and true day, now at the start of our day we stop what we are doing to turn our attention to you. We will do the same again at the close of this day. Help us as we seek to stay oriented to you — that our journey in this life might bring us evermore into closer communion with you. Amen.