Psalms 106:19-20, 21-22, 23
As beginners in Jesuit life we are asked individually to go on a pilgrimage for six weeks. The experiences are radically different and uniquely personal for each novice. What is common, however, is the purpose of the pilgrimage and the "basics," so to speak. Of the basics: we start the six weeks with thirty-five dollars and a one-way bus ticket. Except for a change of clothes, that's it!
You can only imagine the stories we share at the end when we again gather in community. You might also imagine the fun we have with each other in community. We do well at celebrating each other's quirks! For instance, my classmates loved my obsession with pears. Within weeks of joining the Jesuits I was finding pears in my mailbox, under my pillow, in coat pockets... Reunions in community after the varied experiences of the Jesuit Novitiate occupy much of good-memory space.
My own pilgrimage hosts an abundance of stories and of them, most represent situations beyond the ordinary patterns of our lives. I have a favorite, but its really more ordinary than otherwise.
At the crack of dawn in a sleepy Los Angeles, I boarded a bus for Phoenix. A bit exhausted from the hustle of an early morning and certainly worried about the uncertainty of Phoenix itself, I found myself agitated and occupied. And low on cash. The conversation from my random seat-mate an hour into the journey – persistent and gaining momentum! – was not well received. I nodded, smiled, agreed, but sought refuge in the sunlit desert out the window. It didn't work. Exposing the details of his life, he asked about mine. "What's up? Why Phoenix?" So I mentioned the pilgrimage thing...
My companion was awe struck. "A pilgrimage? The Jesuits? Finding what in all things?" He didn't know what to think, but was fascinated. "People don't do this everyday," he informed. He also wanted to contribute, to help however he could. He said, "Look pal. I'm not rich and I can't help you in Phoenix, but I've gotta give you something!" He placed his briefcase on his lap, opened its snaps with his thumbs, reached in . . . then handed me a pear.
To be sure, the Gospel today is complex. Its fundamental message, yet, is to know God – deeply, in our hearts – and to give him glory. To do otherwise is to...well...do as they did long ago: worship golden calves. We so easily praise and glorify the wrong. It's the message of Exodus and it's the message of John: know God and give him glory. To know God is to recognize him, to experience him at work in our lives and around us. Its Lent, and we're in the desert. But in that desert, in our day to day search for meaning and purpose, pears abound. And this is the simple grace of God, receiving a pear in the desert on a bus bound for uncertainty. Our job is to savor and give thanks: to know God and to give him glory.
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