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The other day, I wrote about going to a dinner and worship service at Yale Divinity School as part of an assignment to make a pilgrimage to a sacred space for a class in English Spirituality and Mysticism I’m currently taking. I’ve been thinking a lot about the words of Walter Hilton, from one of the assigned texts for this week. “I am nothing. I have nothing. I seek one thing.”
It came to mind as I drove to the transfer station. What if we thought of every trip we take, no matter how small or mundane, as part of a spiritual pilgrimage. What if we managed to see each place we visit as a sacred space? Could we approach the town transfer station this way?
“I am nothing.” How contrary this is to the message of today. What if, instead of focusing on people who talk about how great they are and how great they are going to make everything, we focused on Walter Hilton, “I am nothing”?
This is not about self-loathing or denying any of what is great about ourselves, it is simply putting it into perspective. It is counting everything we are and have as nothing compared to the surpassing value of being as compassionate as possible. I’ve written in a secular sort of way in hopes that it will resonate with friends that don’t have much use for religion, but Christians may recognize it as a paraphrase of Philippians 3:8.
“I seek one thing”. What is that one thing you seek? I seek? Perhaps some of the answer is, “I’m not really sure”. That’s okay. Perhaps some of the answer is, to try and put it into some sort of secular spirituality, to become one with all compassion. Perhaps some of the answer to put it into the language of Walter Hilton, is to be recover our imago dei, to recover how we are created in the image of God.
Where are you going?
Postscript: As I prepared to post this on my blog, a few associations came to mind. “By My Side” from Godspell came to mind,
Where are you going?
Where are you going?
Can you take me with you?
For my hand is cold
And needs warmth
Where are you going?
as did, “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos”
Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won't have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be "deportees"
The words of Walter Hilton rattle in my head as I sit in the Commuter Room at Yale Divinity School. “I am nothing. I have nothing. I seek one thing.” It has been nearly two years since I last worshipped at Marquand Chapel at Yale Divinity School. I was there for a conference on poetry and worship and during one of the services, I had a profound experience of the presence of God. It is tempting to try and put the experience in the language of mystics. Was it purgative? Illuminative? Unitive? Some combination of the three? I could easily digress on the human desire, bounded by time and language to find the appropriate category, but that seems wrong. Perhaps the only word to be used is ineffable.
I am currently taking a course on English Spirituality and Mysticism as part of the journey that started taking its current shape at Marquand Chapel two years ago. For this week, we have been reading Walter Hilton and Margery Kempe. One of the assignments is to make a spiritual pilgrimage.
I have been thinking a lot about the pilgrim, the alien, and the immigrant recently. Last Sunday in church we read from Leviticus, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien”. Afterwards, I went to a meeting of how different faith communities could work together to welcome and care for the alien.
I had thought that perhaps I should make a pilgrimage to a federal court where there are deportation hearings. Perhaps I should make a metaphorical pilgrimage to Jericho, and join brothers and sisters walking around the federal court building praying that the walls of oppression would come down. If not there, perhaps to some church that provides sanctuary for immigrants.
I had thought that perhaps I should make a pilgrimage to some sacred space tied to monastic traditions like Holy Cross Monastery or The Cloisters in New York City. It would be a more complicated trip, logistically.
I had thought that perhaps I should make a pilgrimage to a digital space. A friend of mine recently died, an activist for those differently abled that I met online.
Yet the idea of returning to Marquand Chapel captured my attention. I looked and found that there was an Emmaus Dinner scheduled for Thursday evening, followed by a worship service in the chapel.
The words of Robert Louis Stevenson join my reflections. “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive”. During the bible study there was talk about the process, of going from point A to point B and I wondered again about the human concept of time. T.S. Eliot bursts into my inner dialog.
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
We go around the room introducing ourselves, a mixture of divinity students and professors, one prospective student, and myself. I think back to reading Aelred of Rievaulx and spiritual friendship. I want to find a spiritual friend. I want to be accepted. I want to find some way of getting my process back on track. Should I talk about my pilgrimage or my larger journey as I introduce myself? Can I make some sort of witty remark that will endear me to the others? Hilton’s voice pops up again, “I am nothing. I have nothing. I seek one thing.”
We talked about Colossians 1:15-20 and everyone complimented one another on profound comments. There were wonderful comments about the poetry of the section and explorations of Greek and Hebrew words. Yet I kept coming back to seeking that one thing.
One of the verses said, “all things have been created through him and for him” and that resonates with me. We are created for him. We are good. We are created in the Imago Dei. That one thing, to rediscover my Imago Dei, to clear away my brokenness that hides the Imago Dei. Yeah. Hilton is helping shape my thoughts this evening.
I’m not sure, yet where Margery Kempe fits in. I’m thinking that as a blogger, I share a certain kinship with Kempe and her autobiography. Yes, this is a part of my autobiography, posted online.
Next week, I intend to return to the Emmaus Dinner. The following week, I have two other things going on at the same time and won’t be able to make it. Then, we will be into Lent and a Lenten series will be taking place at the same time as the Emmaus Dinners. I will need to figure out which to go to when.
In Orthodox iconography
we often see
the bare foot
of the Blessed Virgin Mary
crushing a snake.
It is a symbol
of her victory over evil
to be a servant
In recent years
the snake has been co-opted
in alt-right iconography,
a symbol of defiance
and fierce independence
leaving little room
Don’t tread on me, Mother Mary.