That I may walk my pilgrim way steadily,
Our prayer turns with this petition to address how we might respond to the Lord’s gentle, pervasive, irresistible, and increasing leadership. We begin to wonder what our following might look like. In a word it might look “steady.” Not very flashy is it? I mean, surely we want to accomplish feats of ascetic exploits - right? To understand all mysteries? Or maybe to become walking, talking conduits of esoteric knowledge? I mean who would want on their annual evaluation to read that their performance was “steady?” Nevertheless, this is the modest petition that the prayer affords us — that we walk our pilgrim way steadily.
I have never been particularly good at pacing myself. I get excited about something and I have no shortage of enthusiasm and before I know it I am over-committed. I suppose that, Aesop’s Fables not withstanding, I never really trusted the advice, “slow & steady wins the race.” And yet, those who have walked on pilgrimage universally say that it is the over-eager ones who attempt to walk too fast and too far in a day who inevitably succumb to injury, or fatigue, or who simply race at such a pace that they fail to notice the lessons the hard road of pilgrimage is trying to teach them.
In a century which, in all likelihood, we will see the continued shrinking of the Christian church in North America, it is hard to not feel some panic. The impulse is to get busy working harder and doing more in a frantic effort to preserve the church that has been. In our concern over the changes to communities of faith we race about attempting to solve situations we imagine are problems, but which just might be witnessing changes to our communities of faith because God is doing a new thing. The changes might be seen as the work of the Holy Spirit in which case all of our restless efforts to maintain what has been amount to a lack of faithfulness rather than a mark of fidelity to God.
In Isaiah chapter thirty we find the prophet trying to help the king. They are out reviewing the waterworks because enemy troops have been sighted amassing on the border and an invasion and siege of Jerusalem are feared. The prophet, on God’s behalf, says:
Is. 30:15 For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel:
In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
But you refused
16 and said,
“No! We will flee upon horses”—
therefore you shall flee!
and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”—
therefore your pursuers shall be swift!
The king is thinking, “There are troops coming soon I cannot be seen as incompetent! I can’t just stand here I must do something!” The prophet urges that he stop worrying and return his attention to God - “in returning and in rest is you salvation,” but the king mobilizes the army anyway. The prophet then responds to the frenetic activation of the cavalry, in words that communicate, “If you choose to respond out of your fear, you are choosing a path of endless anxiety because there will never be enough chariots and horses to make you safe ( my paraphrase).”
Learning to walk steadily on our journey rather than constantly striving to progress spectacularly is an important discipline for us not just in Lent, but throughout our journey with God. Being spectacular is overrated. What is truly impressive is the person of faith who steadily and humbly arises each day to begin again to walk in the way of Christ “… forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus”(Philippians 3:13-14).
Lord, you are the way, the truth, and the life: help us to walk our pilgrim way steadily. Give us wisdom about how to pace ourselves and be gentle with ourselves as we seek to follow you wherever the Spirit leads. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.