"Lead me, Lord."
This opening petition is at the heart of a Pilgrim’s Prayer. Pilgrims yearn to have their lives be directed by the leading of God. We join our voices with the cries of the Psalmists who persistently lift up this supplication before God — lead me!
In other places the Psalmist speaks confidently that God has, indeed, responded to the plea:
Psa. 23:0 A Psalm of David. [NRSV]
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
my whole life long.
It seems to me that at the center of the discipline of pilgrimage, and indeed at the heart of our discipleship itself, is the conviction that God is present, can be known, and awaits our attention. The steady repetition of “Lead me, Lord” in a Pilgrim’s Prayer is meant to remind us of the need to constantly return our hearts and minds to the Lord who is present and who desires to lead us.
It is interesting to note that in nearly every use of the phrase “lead me” in the psalms - the plea is made in the presence of, or in response to one’s “enemies.” Like Psalm 23, we live out our faith understanding that the blessings provided by God are not an escape from our enemies, but are given “in the presence of” them. These “enemies” in my life typically come, not in the form of another person or persons so much, as they are the inner turmoil and impulses which I know to be inconsistent with the mind of Christ: my greed, my easy anger, my self-righteousness, my resentments, et cetera. Because these personal demons seldom leave me, it is no surprise that the Lord leads me and blesses me in their presence. Perhaps something similar is true for you.
The petition, “lead me” is an essential part of discipleship. It simultaneously acknowledges one’s need for God to provide a way which leads to the good life, and admits that we do not possess, ourselves, the answers to life’s most crucial questions. Disciples are those who follow in the way and who understand that ultimately we are never in full possession of the way, the truth, and the life, but must live out our discipleship in a posture of grateful reception of a gift beyond our own making. Asking the Lord to lead us and gratefully receiving the guidance provided are fundamental aspects of faith.
These dialogues between the creature and the Creator — between Lord and the ones who follow — are never more essential than in the context of pilgrimage. The very distinction between travel for travel’s sake and travel as an act of faith is this exchange which begins, “lead me,” and the journey which follows taken as an outward expression of an inner spiritual odyssey by which the Lord guides us through a transformation that is good, and acceptable and perfect [see Romans 12:1-2].
Daily Collect — Shepherding Lord: you lead us in paths that are good for us. We recall your leading from enslavement in Pharaoh’s brickyards to the good life of your promised land. We remember your leading along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and to Jerusalem. Give us who follow in your way, the courage we need to leave behind all of the commitments which seek to entangle us in sin — that we might be faithful and winsome witnesses for you in a lost world. We ask it in the name of the one who is the way the truth and the life, Jesus our Lord. Amen.