Matthew 6:25-34; Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Exodus 20:8-11
Once upon a time, a Hare was making fun of a Tortoise for being so slow.
“Do you ever get anywhere?” he asked with a mocking laugh.
“Yes,” replied the Tortoise, “and I get there sooner than you think. I’ll run you a race and prove it.”
The Hare was much amused at the idea of running a race with the Tortoise, but for the fun of the thing he agreed. So the Fox, who had consented to act as judge, marked the distance and started the runners off.
The Hare was soon far out of sight, and to make the Tortoise feel very deeply how ridiculous it was for him to try a race with a Hare, he lay down beside the course to take a nap until the Tortoise should catch up.
The Tortoise meanwhile kept going slowly but steadily, and, after a time, passed the place where the Hare was sleeping. But the Hare slept on very peacefully; and when at last he did wake up, the Tortoise was near the goal. The Hare now ran his swiftest, but he could not overtake the Tortoise in time. The race is not always to the swift.
The art of pilgrimage, of following the journey with Jesus, is sure to confirm this truth: the race is not always to the swift. Speed is honored where we have a particular goal in mind, usually of our own making, and usually one only a few or one can attain. The pilgrim journey following Jesus is not a race. This journey is itself the destination. For on this journey, the prize is the presence of Christ, and that is equally present for all who engage the journey.
Remember the Pilgrim’s Credo: I am not in control. I am not in a hurry. I walk in faith and hope. I greet everyone with peace. I bring back only what God gives me.
This week, I was struggling with how to preach about the second tenet: I am not in a hurry. From my pilgrimage and my research into writings about pilgrimage, even from Aesop’s Fables, “don’t hurry” is a consistent theme. But, what Bible passages include this teaching? When I did a word search for “hurry” in the online Bible, almost all of the places this word appears, it is used to urge quickness. Be in a hurry. The word search didn’t help.
So, what stories in the Bible reflect the tenet, “I am not in a hurry.” This was a little more productive. There are the times Jesus left the crowds, or tried to leave them, and go away by himself, or with his disciples alone. Then there was the time when the disciples tried to hurry Jesus to more important things, but Jesus chose to hold the children on his lap and bless them. These are certainly examples of living not in a hurry, but they don’t really teach the precept.
I wondered what the Sermon on the Mount, my “go-to” section for the teaching of Jesus, might have to say. And here I found our Jesus context for “I am not in a hurry.” Consider the lilies of the field, who neither toil, nor spin, yet God clothes them in more beauty than all these things you worry about. He doesn’t specifically mention hurry, but it gets at why we hurry – to get the things we seek, to win the prize.
Still, I wasn’t settled that this was the best way to teach this tenet of the Pilgrim’s Credo. I was mulling all this over in my mind one morning and thought, “Well, it is not like it is one of the ten commandments.” And as soon as I said that to myself, I realized I was wrong! It is not only part of the ten commandments, but it is in the first table of the Law, which gives us the basic tenets for our relationship with God. (By the way, the second table of the law, the next six, give us the basic tenets for our relationship with each other.)
I am not in a hurry is the point of sabbath.
Exodus 20:8-11 “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.” And from Exodus 34:21 “Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest.”
This one stings a bit. In plowing time and in harvest, you shall rest. Pretty clear. But I must confess that my farm family had trouble living this way. Almost all of the year, Dad would rest on Sunday, our sabbath. But when the barley harvest was on, and the milo planting critically timed right behind it, we made exceptions. Even then, though, while Dad was working about 18 hours a day, he took time off to go to church with the family, after harvesting since dawn. Sabbath was never a whole day during those intense weeks. Yet, it made sabbath all the more important to me, because I knew the struggle of my parents to work so hard and to put their hearts’ desire on hold for a while, for they loved sabbath. Except for those few weeks a year, it was a day of rest in our household.
But why take this pause? Why not hurry on with so many things to do?
I read a blog named “Developing Brakes.” Listen to her confession: I’m a rusher. A rusher of happy things. A rusher into what I hope are happier things. A rusher out of sad feelings. A rusher out of anxious feelings. A rusher out of pain. The problem is, generally when I’m “rushing”, I get a kind of tunnel vision, and suddenly all I can think about is whatever it is I’m excited about or think will be the next great thing in my life. Also, I tend to be insensitive and rush right over people during these periods. And so she writes in order to develop brakes. To slow down. To notice.
On pilgrimage, I learned a little bit about this too. In the first weeks, I had to slow down enough to enjoy the beauty in the heat of the August desert. I urged my camper along through Nevada to reach the higher altitudes of Utah, and cooler temperatures. But every day, I stumbled onto a place of such great beauty that I needed to pause. Walker Lake, half way down the state of Nevada, then Cathedral Gorge and Snow Canyon, not to mention the quirky, lonely beauty of the Extraterretrial Highway, with its towering alien images. All hot places, some with delicious shade and cool rock enclaves to enjoy. I never knew these wonders existed! And I would have missed them had I been in a hurry to reach the higher climes.
Pilgrimage, as a metaphor for following the way of Jesus, is rich with treasures. It is a slow metaphor. At a walking pace. And, if we hurry, if we are only about getting to the finish line first, we miss the beauty of the journey. Jesus just said, “follow me.” He didn’t even say where he was going. I believe that in part, this is because the journey is everything. The journey is the prize. There is no finish line. The journey is the place where we find God at our side. The journey is where God is walking. I think it is that simple.
Part of the work of pilgrimage is to slow down enough to notice – to notice the presence of God with us. The Hare was in much too much of a hurry to notice anything but his own speed and pleasure. The extreme sport enthusiasts in Moab, Utah seemed to be much too focused on what they could accomplish to be able to notice the beauty of the sheer rock walls they climbed or the river trails they pedaled or the life of the river holding their boats, tossing them like salad.
When I hiked Yosemite’s back country with a group ten years ago, I discovered the beauty of coming in last. One day when I came in last to the lunch stop, they asked me about what I had seen that kept me slow. I could show them pictures of the little things which had made that section of trail alive with blessing. Things they had missed.
I always knew I loved to take pictures, but I have realized from that moment on that one of the reasons is that it slows me down, gives me eyes to see and celebrate. Taking photos is a spiritual discipline of seeing deeply, and being deeply grateful. I have begun the occasional bow, or “thank you” to the rock, tree, cloud or creature who called me to notice. Christine Valters Paintner, in Soul of a Pilgrim, has spiritual practices with photography for every chapter. Spirituality and Practice (an online spiritual education center), Ghost Ranch (a Presbyterian Conference Center) also offer classes in photography as a spiritual practice. Art slows us down. Art can be sabbath – the pause in which we recognize and commune with the Holy One.
Sabbath is the spiritual discipline of pilgrimage built into everyday life. It is the moment designed for us humans to pause and notice what we have been given, to celebrate with gratitude. Just like God did after six days of creating.
In this time of chaos, in our building, in our nation, in the world – don’t be in a hurry. It is time for patient prayer and action, in a way that is within the sabbath balance of life. The urge to hurry, to have it all be put on course now, will make us crazy and starve our souls. Only those of us who take the time to feed our souls on this journey will make a real difference. I am sure of that, even though it seems counter-intuitive.
I am not in a hurry. Tell yourself every day: I am not in a hurry. There is no better way to prepare your soul, your life, for God to show up!
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”
– Socrates circa 470 BC