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Monday, November 20, 2017

My Pilgrimage to Chartres: Aftermath

     Unfortunately, the headache that I went to bed with on our final day of walking continued through the night and by morning was a full-blown migraine. I get migraines only occasionally but wow, this one was killer. My head felt like it was being pinched in a vice and like there was a jackhammer just hammering away behind my left eye. It was such a discouragement as I had so wanted to enter into this new day with joy and enthusiasm. We were scheduled to have breakfast and then pray while walking the labyrinth at the hotel where we were staying and share in a short worship service where we would celebrate communion together as fellow pilgrims. I tried to get up and go to breakfast, thinking that the caffeine from a cup of coffee might help ease the pain but upon seeing my other travelers, I just burst into tears, feeling so weak and and in pain. One of the women quickly embraced me and prayed for me. I realized then that I had to go back to bed. I was so disappointed. I was also trying to get back to Paris in time for our 1.30 worship service so that I could ensure that the slide projection program was working properly, and hear Doug preach on All Saints Sunday. Then we had youth group at 3.00. So there were so many things going on with me that morning when I didn't feel good.
     On the one hand, I was so happy and relieved that I had made it Chartres on my own two feet and I wanted to enjoy the aftermath of that accomplishment and finish the time well. But the reality was that I my body was somehow holding me back. I was so frustrated that once again, it was physical issues that were creating an issue for me. Why couldn't I just get through one phase of this journey without physical obstacles? Of course, what kept coming to me over and over again was that I am weak, but God is strong. While true, it is not fun for me to think of myself as a weak person. I am strong. I am bold. I get things done. I am a mover and a shaker, says my core identity. I value competency and can be impatient when people are incompetent. But this trip had really not been about my strengths at all. It had been about facing weakness, facing limitations and then seeking to overcome them, with God's help, with the help of the community, with the help of moleskin and other kinds of aid. I knew that this message of not relying on my own strength was powerful but I was so frustrated that God felt the need to continue to hammer this home, especially because the hammer in my head was killing me. Somewhat surprisingly, after laying back down for half an hour, the pain behind my eye had at least abated and I was able to join the group for the labyrinth walk. 
That's me, with the black hoodie on, trying to keep warm, face to sun
     Now, I am not overly familiar with praying the labyrinth, never fully having understood what it means to walk the labyrinth. If you are interested in this ancient form of prayer, I suggest you do some more reading on it because I'm still trying to sift through it all for my own understanding. It is a very physical experience (I suppose a very appropriate way for me to finish this walk!) where a series of twists and turns takes you to the center, and another series of twists and turns takes you out. It is an intentional way of meeting God and I found it to be a very good experience. A labyrinth isn't a maze. You can't get lost. But what happens along the way is unique and insightful. We had hoped to walk the labyrinth in the cathedral but it is now closed and covered with chairs until lent 2018. But fortunately, the hotel where we were staying had one. 
     The morning was very beautiful with the sun breaking over the horizon but it was very, very cold. I shivered as I stood there waiting for my turn to enter. I was happy to be on the side where certain turns allowed me to face the sun full-on. It was hard to leave the sunny side and enter the side of the shadow, where it was darker and colder. Getting to the center felt good. I stood there for awhile, allowing the sun to drip over my face and body. I felt the healing quality of solitary quiet, a place of little or no demand, to be in God's presence and ponder what the continuing road would look like for me. 
     Soon, it was time for me to exit and I found as I neared the exit point, it was kind of hard. I suppose in some ways it truly marked the end of our pilgrimage. The loud voice in my now calming head was to ponder and consider the truth that life is not best lived on our own strength but in God's strength. What does it mean to truly live by the power of God in us and not on our own accord? The verses from Ephesians continued to ring in my ears...now to him who is able to do more than we could ever ask or think...II Corinthians 12:9 remains: Each time he said, "My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness." So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. How can I continue to understand what this means in practical terms? The other very loud message that came to me as I exited the labyrinth was to look back before I looked forward. In that moment, 2 Sundays ago, I knew that I needed more time to reflect on this experience and that is what I've been trying to do. Subsequently, when people have asked if I would do it again or try the whole camino in Spain, I would say, "I'm trying to look back before I look forward." I've really tried to stick with that. Sharing all of this with you, has been great. Thank you readers, for your role in encouraging me to keep reflecting. 
     From the crisp cold of the garden, we entered the chapel and prepared to share in communion. I was disappointed that I couldn't lead the service but my dear friend Emily graciously took the whole thing. I realized too that I need those spaces in my life where I am not leading, where I am yielding to another's leadership and I am truly just a participant. It was a joyous occasion. When we had finished, I ate the left over bread and drank the remains of the cup and felt it nourish both body and spirit. In a brief conversation with the woman who had led us through the labyrinth, someone who has written extensively on the Chartres labyrinth, I mentioned that I didn't love being as publicly vulnerable as I had been that day. I am much more happy for people to see me in my strength than in my weakness. But I also recognized that these women had embraced me not just a pastor but fellow companion on the road and that meant a great deal to me. Pastors often cannot be as open and vulnerable with people and that is a pity because we are human first and pastor second and we are weak and imperfect. It's very hard to show that side however because at least for me, I fear that if I show the cracks in my armour that people will judge me to unfit to pastor. I suppose deep in soul is the fear that I am unfit to pastor and therefore this fear manifests at times. 
     By the time the communion service ended, I was feeling much better. I had a quick moment to return to the cathedral and take one more look around. Then it was time to catch the first train back to Paris. I was torn about getting back and re-entering the world of my responsibilities right away. While I was feeling better, I was still very tender and tears were just below surface. I would've enjoyed tooling around a Chartres a bit, taking in the town and spending a bit more time with Kim and Emily. But I also felt good about getting back and ended up on the early train with 2 others with whom I enjoyed a mixture of quiet and conversation. 
     It was a strange and wonderful experience to be comfortably seated on the train, with comfy socks, whizzing through all of the towns that we had previously walked through. Wow. I was excited that I had completed this challenge. I knew there so much to learn and graft into my life. I was excited to get back, see Doug and begin to sift through the myriad of emotions that filled my heart and soul. 
     There was gratitude. There were tears. At that moment I didn't know what it was all about. I still don't fully know but I am getting closer to more fully understanding. I continue to learn about ways to allow God's strength to drive me and not just be driven on my own strength and competency. In doing so, I think I will be able to be less frustrated by situations that don't go as planned or as well as I had hoped. And perhaps my own identity as a pastor won't be as rooted in doing all things well as a measure of whether or not I'm a good pastor. I am a beloved child of God. Perhaps that's just enough.