“Happy are the people whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way…” Psalm 84:5
I forgot my prop for my children’s lesson last Sunday. I got to church and could still picture it sitting on the kitchen counter where it would be when I arrived home in a few hours. No excuses stand, though, when a dozen children and more will be expecting something from you meant just for them in the midst of worship.
So it was I decided just this once to simply sit and talk with them. No object lessons this week. No short trips to bless someone celebrating something special in the congregation. No new babies to introduce and no new liturgical colors to ponder. Just this. These fifteen children — ranging in age from 2-12 — and me. I thought to simply ask them how their weeks had been. I asked them to talk about things that had gone well. What had made them happy?
They spoke of having the next day off school. And they talked about the pancakes they had just enjoyed for breakfast and the fun of getting to wear pajamas to church that morning (an annual tradition with us now.)
When I asked what had made the week hard, they were ready with answers, too. One moaned at the hardship of having to help with housecleaning. Another shared her sadness at the death of a former teacher. And yes, the youngest sitting right beside me talked about the irritation of having to wear socks.
We prayed together, then, placing all these things — the good and the bad, the silly and the heartbreaking, into God’s tender hands.
And it occurs to me now that though pieced together at the last minute? This may have been the most meaningful and perhaps even helpful thing I have done with these children in a long time. For in the simple act of sharing and in the powerful response of entrusting it all back to God, we were walking together the ‘pilgrims’ way’ our psalmist so beautifully points us to now. We were able to begin to see and experience the path we are on — all of it — as being somehow imbued with the presence and the purposes of God.
- And that is the ‘pilgrims’ way,’ isn’t it?
- That is a way of seeing the path we are on as a journey to something ever deeper, wouldn’t you say?
- That is a way of experiencing the very ground on which we stand as holy, don’t you think?
At least, it seems to me, it is a good first step towards holding the sort of open hearts which Simeon and Anna display in our reading from Luke this week.
For I don’t know if one is born with a ‘heart set on the pilgrims’ way’ or not.
I can imagine that one’s experiences throughout one’s life might make one more open to recognizing the ‘holy’ whenever and wherever it is encountered.
And I can hope that if it does not come naturally that one can deepen one’s awareness of such as this by one’s daily practices.
And yes, I can surmise that perhaps one is naturally more open to such as this when one is closer to the end of one’s life than the beginning, although I have not necessarily observed this to be the case.
Whatever may have led up to this moment in the temple, though, by the time we meet up with them both Simeon and Anna clearly have hearts which are set ‘on the pilgrims’ way.’ Clearly, they have long been longing for the fulfillment of God’s promises and they know without question that God’s precious promise to them has been kept in the arrival of the child in the protective company of Mary and Joseph now.
And I wonder how you and I become like these two elders now.
- How do we walk with ‘our hearts on the pilgrims’ way’ in the midst of our days?
- How is it that you and I tune our imaginations, our hopes, our longings so that we might experience the ground we are on even now as holy for Jesus is here?
I couldn’t help but wonder last Sunday if maybe it all begins with something as simple as the conversation I had with our youngest ones during the children’s sermon on a day when I forgot my prop.
Maybe it all begins by paying attention to what has marked our days — both good and bad, beautiful and heartbreaking and then recognizing it all as belonging to God. And putting it all back into God’s hands where it belongs.
Perhaps it is as simple as that.
Perhaps this is how our hearts, too, might be set on ‘pilgrims’ way’
Like Simeon and Anna.
Like a 3rd grader whose heart is broken at the death of a former teacher and a 2 year old who doesn’t like to wear socks.
Like all of us who struggle sometimes to see life as a journey to something more than what is right before us.
May we each and all know our hearts to be on the ‘pilgrims’ way’ and may we be encouraged along the way with signs and sightings of the Holy, so that along with Simeon and Anna we might keep on this way to which we have been called.
- What does it mean to you to be ‘on the pilgrims’ way? Who is that you now who like Simeon and Anna have demonstrated to you what this looks like, what this is?
- Do you think some of us are simply born with this awareness, is it something we can develop, or some combination of the two?
- What practices have you developed to hep you keep your ‘hearts on the pilgrims’ way?’ Would you be willing to share them here?