The other evening, I stopped by Starbuck’s on the way home from work to hang out and read. After I had read for awhile, a young family came in. While the dad was busy talking to his brother, who is one of the barista’s here, Mom spent time keeping the kids active… and the kids were especially active…. in a good way. I stepped outside to enjoy the suddenly cool weather which had blown in with an intense and short rain storm. Sitting in a chair just outside the door, I watched as the door slowly openned and the youngest child, a boy of about 3, struggled out the door, followed closely by his mother. The boy came over to the vacant chair at my table and pulled his way into it.
“Well hello there!” I said. “What’s your name?”
He mumbled something in return, and I asked again…
“His name is Jackson…” Mom interpretted.
“Jackson… I LOVE that name!” I excitedly replied… and I do, too.
Jackson had a wallet on a looooong chain, so I started talking to him about it. So began a most enjoyable conversation with a rambunctious three year old and, eventually, his mother and 5 year old sister. I had so much fun watching Jackson interact with life around him. We came back inside, shortly, and I returned to the brown, leather, high-back chair which was surrounded by end tables, small, round ottomans, and my own personal scattering of backpack, book, reading glasses, and pen. As Mom and I conversed about life, sharing short smatterings of personal histories and such, Jackson found that the round ottomans made great drums! He pounded away to the irritation of his mom. I reassured her that he was fine and that the ottoman made a perfect drum and that all boys are genetically inclined to pound away on the item most resembling a drum. Eventually, Jackson’s drumming broke through the conversational focus of Dad, and he turned to chide his son on how he was interrupting my reading. I replied that Jackson was doing fine, and that it was fun to watch him. And it was!
I love kids. They approach all of life in discovery mode, almost as if they are seeing everything for the first time, because they are. Most of the time. Curiosity and wonder mark their days. That’s not to say they are always happy with what they find. Sometimes, their discoveries are marked with pain. But that is part of the process of growing up. Play and imagination are the spark plugs for this motor of discovery. They have yet to learn the sophistication of boredom, and monotony of “have to’s”.
I’ve been reading a book about the ancient faith practice of pilgrimmage: THE SACRED JOURNEY, by Charles Foster. Foster has travelled all over the world and done much of it by foot… at least when he gets to the location of the starting point of each adventurous journey. He distinguishes between a pilgrim and a tourist by suggesting that for the pilgrim, the process of the journey is of more importance than the destination. Personal comfort is not of much importance to the pilgrim… it is, however, to the tourist. The tourist takes a clipboard with a list, snaps a picture of himself or his companion standing in front of the the famous object… pyramid, sphynx, leaning tower of pisa, world’s largest ball of string…. whatever… looks down at his clipboard, puts a check mark next to the item on his list, and then asks when the air-conditioned tour bus will be leaving….
Ancient ruins of the Acropolis… Check! “You know, they really could use a weed-eater around here…”
Meanwhile, the pilgrim trudges her way across a waste land, surrounded by hardship, strangers who perhaps become good friends, hunger, thirst, blisters, sweat, and mile after mile of monotonous trudging from one nameless landmark to another…. And yet… The pilgrim is extravagantly changed by the experience. She learns to see the land with new eyes. In fact, Foster suggests that a pilgrim begins to experience life as through the eyes of a child:
“Every pilgrimmage is a journe backward. Every pilgrim’s step is a step toward his childhood. And that, in the paradoxical logic of the kingdom, is the only way to go forward. It is only children who inherit the kingdom.
There’s little that is new in most of our days. That, perversely, is how we like it. We arrange our lives to avoid the terror of novelty, fencing it out with routine, with insurance, with the company of people who agree with us. But for the young child, everything is new. She has never seen a postman before, and his uniform is dazzingly romantic. When she looks at a cat, she sees teeth, hair, and danger—in fact, origins and essence— in a way we never do. When she looks at a concrete wasteland, it is populated with monsters and fascinations.
The pilgrim can be the same, although it takes time and the practice of vulnerability. He has many advantages over the stay-at-home. He’s on a peninsula of the kingdom where the rules are different—where the first is last, the greatest is least, and the child is sage. He will know something of the freedom that those rules give, and that knowledge will help him to overcome his fear of abandoning his expensive, ridiculous, ill-fitting adulthood. If he has companions, they will laugh at him when he talks like a secretary of state, and that will help too.
Every step he takes along an unfamiliar road gives him, as the whole world gives the child, a completely new view. The journey is a string of thrilling unfamiliarities, and therefore a string of vehicles back to the nursery.”
Although pilgrimmages have traditionally been to a specific “holy” place, anyplace can be a holy place. Time is important, in my view. Distance is as well. Leaving the comfort of our well-manicured lives of air-conditioned seperation. Walking is good. Biking, maybe. Even horseback. Actually, the method isn’t as big a deal as the need for some physical effort. I also think that retreating into the natural world is good, too. Returning to the natural rythms of travelling the earth as our father’s did,allowing ourselves to slow, and time to slip by without manipulations on it. Then keeping our eyes and ears open. Talking… really talking… to our companions. Listening, as well. And… well… playing! Allowing ourselves to become children again. Finding a pond along the way, and taking a swim! Looking for the vistas God has prepared. Listening to His voice in the wildness.
Maybe finding some sticks along the way, and pounding on a log. Like Jackson…