The Way of a Pilgrim..

For some time now I had been reading, in short bursts, "The Way of a Pilgrim" a tale of Russian Orthodox spirituality centered on a wanderer seeking a life of continual prayer. I actually found the book several years ago in a used book sale at a local public library and its been close by ever since.

At times when I read the book and others with collections of the desert Fathers or biographies of illuminaries like St. Macarius a part of me wishes for the same life of contemplation and ceaseless encounter with God. I suspect that I'm like many who feeled pulled in too many directions and would give much to be simply focused and directed. But even as I do I realize two important things.

First I have to recognize that some of this is just an urge for rest. It's not easy, sometimes, to live halfway between here and there, caring for a parish in one town and living in another. At times I wonder why God simply doesn't fill the people of St. Elias with such hope and inspiration that all their fears and struggles would vanish and their tenativeness would disappear. But to get to that place of peace and joy, a place where their hearts would naturally respond to the care and nurture of the parish, will take time and time means that for now I still need to travel. So the normal rest of proximity, of being in the place I serve, of returning home in minutes rather than hours following Liturgy will have to wait. And sometimes that desire for a time in the desert is just my body and my soul's way of asking for rest.

Then, too, I believe I would make a terrible monk. For a while it might be novel to live in community and pursue the life of a monastic but I know that it would wear off and then what? As much as the larger world has its shares of sadness and stuggle it is still, for lack of a better term, my home the place where I belong. I respect the conviction that causes people to flee the world but I do not share it. So what am I to do?

The truth is I'm not sure. In these issues of prayer and contemplation and the ascetic life I am an amateur acting almost entirely on a combination of scattered writings and instinct. Seeing the value of constant prayer and the call on my life in the world I have been trying, and mostly not succeeding, to fill in every open space with, if not formal prayer at least the Jesus Prayer or thoughts of godly things. I try to go to sleep at night with prayer and wake in the morning with the same. If I cannot fill all my day with prayer I feel I should at least attempt to fill all the cracks, the open spaces in a day's business, with heavenly things or at least to see the holy in all things. I presume that over time, as the Bible says, a little yeast will leaven the whole lump and what I do in bits and pieces will eventually become just the way of my life.

This all may sound pious but the truth is that I'm just at the very beginning, the point where I see the need and I'm trying to find a way. Most of the time I miss the mark, and that's not just the kind of "humble speak" we Orthodox are often so good at, it's the truth. All I know is that I need a different kind of life and by grace I want to find it, or have it find me.

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