We’ve all had this happen. We’re driving down the road and suddenly there is a beep and a warning light comes on saying we’re almost out of gas.
The wise among us fill up at the earliest opportunity. The not so wise ask, “I wonder how far I can go on empty?” It becomes a kind of game to see just how much mileage you can squeeze out of an empty tank. The thing is, at some point empty really means empty. You can’t go anywhere. You’ve finally run out of gas.
This can happen to people as well, only there is no warning light and beep saying you are running on empty. We take a perverse pride in having over-scheduled lives and being always on call, always being connected. When I attend clergy gatherings there is almost a contest to see who has worked the most hours and gone the longest without taking a day off. This isn’t restricted to clergy but to anyone who has bought into the Pac(ked) Man lifestyle. What scares me is that we have passed this down to our children as normal.
Into this New Normal comes something that seems abnormal – the Season of Lent. It’s 40 days of weird, 40 days to turn your world upside down so that it can finally be right side up. Yes, it is a time of penitence and fasting and maybe giving up some special treat. But it is also a time of renewal; it’s time for a spiritual reboot. Jesus told his disciples that “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (Gospel of John 10:10) Nowhere in the gospels does Jesus talk about the overly abundant schedule.
When I find myself running on empty I look to see how Jesus handled the overly abundant schedule. What I find is a Jesus that takes a break, who creates a Sabbath time so that he can continue his ministry. Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. (Gospel of Mark 6:31). This sounds absolutely contemporary to me. How many times has dinner consisted of whatever you can order in a drive- through because there isn’t any time to eat?
But if the Messiah can take time for rest, then perhaps it is time for us to put down our own messianic aspirations and do the same. Like I said, it’s time for a spiritual reboot.
If you’re like me, you try to do this at home. And, if you are like me, you do this without much success. Even when I’m sick I use that down time to look around the house and see what needs to be done. Having the flu becomes the time I use to organize my filing cabinets or clean out my closet. Relapse anyone? That’s why it’s important, if at all possible to get away.
All major religions endorse the idea of pilgrimage, to go away and rest awhile, to experience God and reconnect with what gives you life.
My friend and mentor, Donald Fishburne, was one of those overly scheduled clergy; he was and is an extraordinary priest. But now his focus is on the art of pilgrimage, taking people out of their usual settings for an encounter with the Divine. Donald now works with Educational Opportunities, which lives into its name – giving opportunities for spiritual opportunities and reboots that we just can’t have at home.
Recently he shared the story of traveling to Cuba and meeting with Methodist pastors there who have continued to keep the church alive even under Communist rule, even while being paid $200 a month. What might be learned from such an encounter? How might we be changed and renewed? If we thought it was bad to run to run a car – or ourselves on empty – how much worse to do that when you can’t even afford the gas?
This was Donald’s reflection on a recent pilgrimage to Israel. “For me, some of the wonder of the pilgrimage is to walk where Jesus walked – and to understand that some parts of his journey were accomplished in only minutes or a few hours, while others, including going up to Jerusalem, would take days with stops along the way. Studying Scripture and having a mental picture of this is one thing – to go to the place Jesus was born, and the place where he spent his last night before the crucifixion, and to walk where he walked – all of these experiences bring his story alive for us in new ways.
“To hear the Sea of Galilee called the sea of life, while praying quietly on a boat on that sea, is unforgettable. It is good to get a sense of how far is it from the Dead Sea, and to know the difference in the landscape and way of life in different regions. Some valleys are verdant; some places are inhospitable wildernesses.”
If you are in need of a spiritual reboot, I pray that you will take the time that Jesus did to fill up again. If life has become an inhospitable wilderness, learn how to come away to a quiet place and be with the Holy One.
Donald Fishburne will be teaching and preaching about the Art of Pilgrimage at 10:30 a.m. March 26, at Holy Comforter and you are invited to come and learn about the possibilities for holy encounters in holy places that are available through Educational Opportunities.
Hear that beeping? See that warning light? You’re running on empty. Time to fill up.
The Rev. Cynthia Taylor is the pastor of the Church of the Holy Comforter in Martinez.