Open and Vulnerable

There was a young adult at my previous parish—a very smart “coastal” guy—who had done well in finance but found it empty. So he sold his furniture and packed up and flew one February to some place in France and walked the Camino. He was alone for the first part of his walk, but as he came into Spain and warmer weather and drew closer to Santiago, he found more people.
    He then moved to New York, started a new career, and loved Jesus.
    I asked him once, as I was getting the itch for making the Camino, where the route starts. I know many start in Spain, but he had talked about France, and I was confused.
    He said: You know, Father, the Camino starts wherever you are.
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    Well, truth is, I didn’t know. I hadn’t thought of that. But his words were instantly clear. A pilgrimage begins when you start to get ready for a pilgrimage.
    I suppose I started getting ready in a slight sense when I first learned that my rector’s wife, back in New York, had taken off for six weeks and made this pilgrimage. Then when I was widowed, it became a possibility for me. I wrote it down as a spiritual goal once, giving it a date and a purpose: “within five years, for health of soul and body, to draw closer to Jesus who has walked before me.” From time to time the thought would recur, but it is hard to plan to be away for six weeks from home, from work, from friends. A year passed. I moved to Texas. Another year. No Camino.
    Finally, about 15 months ago I decided to get serious, and I put it on the calendar. My bishop was enthusiastic, as was my rector. I laid out all my plans and worked on Spanish (muy poco) and walking (mucho) and getting gear (mas). And, dear reader, you know where this is going, don’t you?
    Spain is closed. No Camino. I’ll have to plan this out again.
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    But my parishioner, that young adult, his words have stuck with me: The Camino for me has already started. I’ve been on it for several years already.
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    Each Christian is a pilgrim. You are on a journey to God. The secret of your life is that it is a pilgrimage. You make plans, you prepare yourself, you move along. Then, as we all know, things change, and what we thought we were doing turns out to be different and to take us elsewhere.
    A couple of months ago, a friend posed this question: “What are you looking for on the Camino?” My answer was, “to be open and vulnerable.”
    Fellow pilgrims, this is the spiritual gift of the present time. We are experiencing together what it means to be open and vulnerable.
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    On the Web. Father John Sundara had a conversation with me about how fasting makes us weaker, and how that’s a good thing. We had a good time—so much so, that our conversation took two weeks! (Only about 17 minutes per week.) You can see and hear us here: https://incarnation.org/article/fridays-in-lent-march-13/
    The New Atlantis is an interesting source of cultural and scientific thinking. I recently read a review there, “Do We Want Dystopia?” of three novels that are (in the reviewer’s judgment) not altogether successful and yet helpfully probe the oddness of our technological moment. The novels are about (1) driverless cars that have been hacked, with people on the Internet voting which car (and passenger) will escape destruction and death; (2) a robot who looks human and can pass as human and quickly learns emotions like jealousy; and (3) a world in which we are saved from contingency, danger, and struggle, and the result seems to be that we are dead. I don’t know if I will read them, but I do recommend the review: https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/do-we-want-dystopia

Routine: Interrupted

   My own story is dull, even pedestrian, but it will serve to make the point. I have settled into life here in Dallas: new home, new diocese, new parish, new friends. Settling in meant finding a new routine of life that works in this new place. I get up about 5 o’clock, say Morning Prayer and maybe also a bit of Bible study on the readings. Then I go out onto the Katy Trail, run just over a mile to Starbucks. I take my journal with me, and there I sit for a half-hour or so and write, thinking back over the previous day and what good things happened, what bothersome things happened, and what sins I should name.
    The journal quickly evolved into a time of conversation with God. It’s my checking in with him, and through writing it I try to discern his voice in my head (amidst the storms and noise) and his hand in my life and in the people and events around me.
    That done, I run back home, and start my day.
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    It’s been a good pattern, but the blankety-blank virus has messed it up. This week when I went to Starbucks the store was open, but the chairs and tables were gone. I got my coffee, and enjoyed a bit of a chat with one of my familiar baristas (the clientele was absent, apart from me). And then I had to run back home. I did write in my journal once I got back home. So, this interrupted morning pattern will work. It’s actually a very small thing, as I said at the first, even dull and pedestrian. But it’s a sign.
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    More dramatic memories occur. Twenty years ago, following a lunch, walking back to the car, my wife was slow. I was impatient but also thought her brain, which was diseased, might need a challenge. So I went off in front of her towards the car. Then I heard the thunk. She had fallen face down on the concrete. Her glasses were broken. She was not responding to speech.
    An ambulance arrived; twelve hours or so later, she was released from the emergency room. Diagnosis: concussion.
    One wants, in a situation like that, to rewind the film, to go back to that ill-fated decision. Would that I had stayed beside her, letting her hold my arm! Would that she had never fallen! But life is not a film with a rewind button.
    The afternoon, the evening, the days that followed: Interrupted.
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    Deeper than our sense of guilt, deeper than our good desire for a settled routine that advances health of body and soul, deeper than anything else in this world is the reality of interruption. There is nothing we hang on to, and no plan that we make, that will not be interrupted in the end. Death is the Great Interrupter. All other interruptions, from a closed coffee shop up to an emergency room visit, are just practices.
    Your life, everyone’s life, has been interrupted in unexpected ways in the past few weeks. These interruptions are practice exercises. They are opportunities for us to be ready to face, whenever it comes, the Great Interruption.
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    On the web. My sermon on Job 2:7-13, given at St. John’s in Montgomery, Ala., on March 4, is here (both audio and text): https://stjohnsmontgomery.org/audio/lenten-wednesday-noon-sermon-march-4-2020/

    The bishop of Tennessee, John Bauerschmidt, has collected some pertinent prayers for our current time, from older Prayer Books as well as the current BCP. He reminds us that a fundamental practice for us is to pray! https://livingchurch.org/covenant/2020/03/17/the-coronavirus-and-the-book-of-common-prayer/
    July at Nashotah: July 20-24, I will be teaching a one-week course at Nashotah House, "Theological Anthropology: What's the Good of Being Human?" There will be some advance readings. You may audit for a reasonable fee, or take it for credit and do some writing assignments before and after. A week in Wisconsin in July, with daily worship at our historic Anglo-catholic seminary: what could be better? Drop me a line if you’re interested, or go to nashotah.edu

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."