You wake up. Moving quietly out of respect for those trying to get a bit more sleep, you get dressed, pack up your sleeping bag and other loose items, and off you go. The simplicity is what is both appealing and instructive. Every day you get up and walk. You eat along the way. You pause for prayers and, sometimes, to write in your journal. As you walk you look around, you attend to your surroundings to see what God has put into your day. Life has just two parts: dealing with what the day gives (rain? mud? hills? hot sun?) and attending to the creation that is God’s first gift to you (animals? flowers? songs? vistas? your fellow pilgrims?).
Such, as I’ve written before, is daily life for peregrinos on “the Camino,” with its timeless instruction for every day any where.
Last week I was with Anglicans who live in the diocese of the Arctic. The land the diocese covers is huge, even bigger (as we egotistically say) than Texas (actually many times bigger), and yet it has but a hundred thousand people. That’s the total population.
The conference was in a town of three thousand. This town lies beside a river that flows into a vast and deep lake (said to be the tenth largest in the world). A bit over a year ago the river flooded and the people in the town had to evacuate. This past summer, they had to evacuate again because of fire. Shortly after returning, the fire also returned. It was within a mile of the town. Again they evacuated; this time for more than a month. In the end, the town was spared.
People would speak about this to me as if was just one more thing in life. There are diseases like cancer and viruses like Covid. There are families that break up; there are people who need our help. The evacuations had been serious challenges. But they were not recounted as high drama.
To the contrary: on the edge, where roads are few and people fewer, if you are driving and you see a car broken down, you stop. It’s always true, but these people know: we need each other in the most basic ways. I thought I was hearing stories that could have come from the Bible—if the Bible stories had happened not in a desert but up near the tundra. Abraham, sitting at the door of his tent, invites some passers-by to turn aside and rest, and he makes a meal for them. Those visitors turned out to be God.
But putting it that way is Austin being dramatic again. The Christians I met would just shrug at my parallel. They would get it, but what seemed more important was that the stranger was a fellow human being.
It took four plane rides and two cars to get there. And yet the lesson could be found by picking up a pack and walking down the street. What has God given to us today? Sometimes the answer is: this person in front of me, or this person beside me. The simple truth of everyday life is that nothing is more important or more beautiful or more demanding of our attention than another human being.
Out & About. This Sunday, Dec. 3, at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, I am teaching an Advent class on “An Adult Christ at Christmas.” It meets at about 10:20 in the Great Hall.
Looking ahead: we'll discuss Morte D'Urban by J. F. Powers on January 14, 2024, Sunday at 5pm (Good Books & Good Talk at St. Matthew's). Father Urban is a priest of the order of St. Clement, a group known for nothing much—but Urban has designs to improve them. He is amazingly successful with wealthy donors and nonstop work; then it all falls apart. Powers’s humor is dry, deadpan; his stories and novels capture the intrinsic comedy of celibate Catholic clergy life. Powers was a favorite of Garrison Keillor, his fellow Minnesotan. This novel won for Powers the National Book Award in 1963.
Drop me a line if you have questions about the Christian Ethics course at the Stanton Center starting in January. The teacher is lined up (and he is writing these words) and there are student spaces available still. If you audit this class, you will be expected to do various readings prior to each meeting, one of them a Muriel Spark novel, many of them drawn from Christian Ethics: A Guide for the Perplexed. If you take it for credit, you’ll be asked to write some responses to the readings prior to class also. The main thing is in-person discussion; no final exam, no term paper. Registration begins with an email to Erica Lasenyik: