Tuesday, 10 September 2013
The Way of the Pilgrim
"The primary thing that The Way of a Pilgrim (and the Christian East) see that we in the west do not is the importance of the “Interior Life.” The pilgrim begins by hearing that he should pray without ceasing and wonders how this would be possible because of the business of life in order to make a living. He is concerned with the exterior life.
As the pilgrim seeks to figure out what it means to pray without ceasing, the first guide he meets clarifies, “Unceasing interior prayer is the continual striving of man’s spirit toward God.” The man does not, as the pilgrim notes, provide him with a real explanation, but does clarify for us what the journey we are all taking along with the pilgrim is, the journey toward God via the interior life.
The second guide, again giving an incomplete answer, reads to him from The Spiritual Education of the Interior Man. We should be beginning to pick up a theme that is finally resolved when the pilgrim meets his precious starets, who says to him “Thank God, beloved brother, for having awakened in you this irresistible longing to acquire unceasing interior prayer.” He goes on to teach him that prayer purifies the external by purifying the internal and helps him to learn how to prayer this interior prayer. He finally has found someone to teach him.
The rest of the book continues this examination of how the pilgrim’s life changes as he begins to focus on the interior life. Speaking of meeting people he says “. . . without exception they all appeared very dear to me, as if they were family . . .”
As a result of the growing interior prayer the pilgrim treats even his enemies with love. He does not do it out of a sense of obligation to a moral law, but as the result of a heart transformed.
The Way of a Pilgrim teaches another lesson that is very absent, and even opposed, in the west. The value of withdrawal from the world. My western protestant evangelical sensibilities often opposed his consistent desire to be alone and away from others. I even drew a frowny face next to a passage where he says “If I happened to meet people, I no longer felt any desire to speak with them; I longed only for solitude, to be alone with my prayer.” This did not seem, as the pilgrim claimed, to be proof of the grace of interior prayer at all.
But as the journey goes on the pilgrim repeatedly encounters people who benefit from his company. He helps a small village by becoming spiritual advisor during a brief stay to oversee the construction of a new church, he saves the life of a woman as a result of a vision he has about her health, he helps a pious family to understand more deeply how to pray and honor God. The book ends with the pilgrim leaving for Jerusalem as a travel companion for an old blind man.
He wants only to be with God. The pilgrim withdraws from the world to be nearer to God and the nearer to God he gets the more God draws the world to the pilgrim.
I think that, in modern evangelical churches especially, we use the great commission often as an excuse to grow our organization (and by extension egos) and become people pleasers. We see the pilgrim and other people who live a life of withdraw and immediately clamor to say “The Great Commission forbids such a life!” but the pilgrim is constantly in a ministry. The difference between the pilgrim’s ministry and my own is that the pilgrim wants to be with God and I want to be used by God. His is far more humble, and thus far more profound. The pilgrim reminds me that my job, first and foremost, is to be with God.
The last, and most important thing The Way of a Pilgrim has to teach us is that this life is possible without being a pilgrim or without being a hermit. This life is possible for us in our everyday life. While this a repeated theme, there is one particularly insightful passage in the fourth narrative."