"Have you no faith?"

Winchester, VA

Last night we had to walk until after dark before we found a place to sleep, a school up on a hill. And this morning, I thought about Heather, trying again to get her visa today (later I found out she was refused again). Though the sunrise was all beauty and peace, I felt burdened by the seeming chaos of life.

This feeling continued as we walked. Then I remembered the children's sermon last Sunday (given by Ann McBroom, who invited us to their home). It was on the story of Jesus sleeping in the storm:

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him.

And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care if we perish?" And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?"

And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?" (Mk 4.35-41)

Ann compared Jesus to young children, who can also sleep through anything, in any position. She said it was because they are not worrying, because they trust. Just as Jesus trusted his Father, no matter what threatened.

A good message when chaos seems all around.


leaving the McClains

Strasburg, VA

We said goodbye to the McClains this morning, after a really great visit. They have a big family and often welcome visitors at their home, so it's easy to feel comfortable with them. Fun people. Very generous, too.

As we were leaving, Colette wanted a picture of Paul and me, and got her youngest daughter Gabby to pose with us. Just like on the morning I left six years ago. Their dog, Tia, even tried to follow us down the road.

This morning, having heard they're getting into yoga, I left this little suprise on their computer desktop (the kids will love it):

"Our soul waits for the Lord"

I've was feeling very powerless yesterday. Having to delay our walk to the abbey, and not knowing where we could stay (the McClains helped with that). And we've been talking about family and children and all their needs and the unexpected emergencies that come up, and how can I hope to provide for all those without a stable income? Then Heather wrote from Paris saying she's having trouble getting her visa to continue to Nigeria, and there's nothing I can do to help. I don't even know what I'm going to do when I get back to Fredericksburg, since I don't have money for even a bus ticket.

But just before lunch I read these lines, at the end of Psalm 33:

A king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a vain hope for victory,
and by its great might it cannot save.

Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
that he may deliver their soul from death,
and keep them alive in famine.

Our soul waits for the LORD;
he is our help and shield.
Yea, our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.

Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.

Wait for the Lord, trust him, hope in his steadfast love. This, perhaps, I can do. I've been practicing.


radical giving

Still with the McClains today. It rained most of yesterday, but we enjoyed the day anyway, talking and reading. I made pizza last night. And now we're not leaving until tomorrow, since the Abbey can't host us until Sunday night. So we get to enjoy one more day on the farm.

Yesterday Paul and I read the story of the widow and the temple treasury. It reminded me of this entry from a couple years ago:

Jesus taught radical giving, making our work and even our possessions a gift to others, and taking the humble position of a servant, needy among the needy. But such giving is not respected. The ones who are praised are those who give large amounts, and who maintain their positions of wealth and power so they can continue to give. Isn’t that a more prudent way to help others?

Because it is the rich benefactor who can help the most people, not the poor servant—right? This seems to be the obvious conclusion when “helping” is measured in dollars or the number of people fed, clothed, or sheltered. But Jesus seemed to have a different view:
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.” (Mk 12.41-44)
Jesus said the poor widow put in more than all the rich people. And so set her as the example of how we are to give. The important thing is clearly not the monetary size of the gift, but whether or not the gift is all. Because it doesn’t take much faith to make a large contribution when there is plenty more left at home. But it does take great faith to give everything you have left, even if it is a small amount. And Jesus measures the value of our gifts by the faith behind them, not the number of dollars.

The value of the widow’s gift was in her faith and the love that moved her to give. Such faith opens us to God’s love, which is the highest good both for ourselves and as an example and encouragement to others, calling them also to faith. So we can see why [in his own life] Jesus chose the radical giving that demonstrated radical faith. And continued to demonstrate great faith by staying poor and dependent, in the position of a humble servant, continuing to give everything without concern for his own needs. This demonstration of faith makes the gift “more,” even if it is materially small.

It is not the size of the gift, but the faith that matters. Because God responds to faith with a wealth and power much greater than any human power. Like in the miracle of the loaves and fishes, when a small gift offered in faith (it was all the boy had) was many times multiplied by God, to provide all the food the crowd needed with much left over.

So we should not be deterred from radical giving, or embarrassed by the small gifts we can give as poor servants. God is not dependent on our wealth or power. God looks for the one who will give everything, depending completely on him.


the first family

Strasburg, VA

Paul and I arrived at the McClains yesterday. I met them almost exactly six years ago, on my first walk. Here's my journal entries from that visit:


On my way out of town, I paused as I noticed a Catholic church, and immediately got invited in by an older woman arriving for daily Mass. I only spoke with her for a minute, saying I was walking from Georgia to [Holy Cross] Abbey. Then I peeked in for the readings (from the cry room--I smelled a little too 'outdoorsy' for Mass). Nothing too exciting, so I left. End of story. Except--there was this woman with two kids, late for Mass, who saw me walking down the street. She didn't think much about me, and slipping into the cry room to avoid disturbing the others. Now here's the tricky part: After Mass, the older woman comes into the cry room. "Where is he?," she asks. Then she tells the mother the little I had told her, and the mother realizes she saw me on her way to the church. Going about her errands, the mother thinks more about it. Then she sees me on her way home (I had taken a nap, so hadn't gotten far). So she takes a chance. She offers me lunch at her house, tells me about her kids (8 of them!--I met 5), and we talk for an hour or so. Then, after consulting her husband, she offers to let me stay the night! I get a shower, meet her husband, and we talk some more. Very good stuff. These are pretty aware Catholics, home-schooling their kids, spiritually alive. Their oldest daughter is on a bike trip across the country for Habitat for Humanity. I'll have full use of their Amish-built mini-cabin (kid's playhouse), which is good because I hear there's supposed to be heavy thunderstorms tonight.

Unbelievable, I know. But I realize that I needed something unbelievable like this. It's so encouraging, not just for today, but for the way I'd hoped to live after the abbey. My feet needed it, too. I'll get to the abbey maybe a half-day later, but this is an unimaginable boost for me spiritually. When God gives so much more than I could possibly ask, that can't help but renew and support my faith. Thank you, God, for the McClains. I'm in awe.


I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved,
he who keeps you will not slumber...
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore. (Ps 121.1-3,7-8)

It is very easy to believe that this morning. Lots of rain last night, but I was warm and dry and comfortable. I had a great talk with Mr. McClain after dinner, about responsibility (of fatherhood) and relinquishing control of our lives to God. Really, we cannot bear the responsibility for even our own life, much less the lives of others. Love, not duty, must guide our actions. God has placed me on much firmer ground to discuss such things.

And what's perhaps the most amazing about the whole experience is that I met these people just yesterday. We didn't know each other. Yet we talked as I have talked to my family and oldest friends. A sharing of the same spirit. This is everything I'd hoped for, and more. Their children were very friendly; even the dogs were friendly. One daughter (12) told her mother, "I think this was supposed to happen." And the youngest daughter (6) gave me a hug before she went to bed. I was so overwhelmed I could barely get to sleep.

God bless this house.

6.22 (later)

Overlooking the "beautiful valley" on the 2nd, another hiker said, "This is what it's all about." Perhaps, for a hiker. But for me, yesterday was "what it's all about." Love flowing freely between people. With our gaze all on God. I had a short talk this morning with Mrs. McClain about things "coming together," in a way that only God could arrange. Then she dropped me at the highway on her way to Mass. Her last words were, "Thank you for... being here." That's what pilgrimage is all about.

Paul and I had a similar experience Sunday, with Ann and Jack McBroom, who took us to their home after church. A beautiful place, in the mountains. And hours and hours of talking. It felt like seeing old friends again, though we had just met. That comes from having the deepest, most important part of ourselves in common, already sharing the center of our lives.


Edinburg, VA

Lots of rain, but we were taken home after church yesterday, by a couple we met during Sunday school, and had a very stimulating visit and a great night's sleep. More later.

Here's our plan for the next several days, including a visit with the McClains (the first family to ever take me in) and a visit to Holy Cross Abbey.


He teaches the anawim his Way

Mt. Jackson, VA

It rained hard yesterday evening, but we managed to stay dry at a church. As night fell, however, bats began to pour out of the belfry and careened around us wildly. We retreated, finding another (bat-free) church to sleep at.

Then another good talk with Paul this morning as we walked. His situation at home is so difficult; I'm glad he has this time to pray and think and hear what God wants him to do. All along the way the mountains were to the east, draped with morning mist. Very much like in this painting.

And I've been thinking about this line from our prayer yesterday (Ps 25.9):

He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
I looked up the Hebrew word translated "humble," and it's anawim. Which also can be translated "poor, needy, weak, afflicted, lowly, meek."


home away from home

New Market, VA

Webb and Carol Hypes sent us off with a good breakfast this morning (and some money, just when we had run out). A much-needed refreshment. In some ways it reminded me of being at home with my parents.

Then we dodged rain and walked long and hard to get to New Market. During those quiet hours I began thinking about a message I had just received from Rich at Plow Creek, saying they were overloaded at the moment and wanted to revisit the retreat idea when Heather gets back in January. That was a little disappointing, though certainly understandable. But it got me wondering...

About home. I remembered writing about God's promises of a home possibly being fulfilled at the Fredericksburg retreat place--which turned out to be very far from the case. Then I remembered how I used to always say that we will never find our perfect home in any place here on earth. Yet we can always be at home with a person, our Father God (and with the persons who are his children), wherever we are.

I even spoke on those themes last summer when Heather and I were staying at Plow Creek. And I remember quoting these lines from a Psalters song, "Refugee our Home":

Revolution come free us,
Holy Brother us desert wanderers have no place to call home
Physician come heal us
Holy Mender us blind ol lepers can not find our way home

Refugee just like me please don't leave You're our only...
Home, Home, Home, Home...

Compassion come save us
Holy Lover us warmongers ruined this place we call home

Refugee just like me please don't leave You're our only...
Home, Home, Home, Home...
When they sang that, we all made a tramping sound with our feet for the basic rhythm, and chanted the low "Home, Home" mantra. It was meant to express that we are continually on pilgrimage, yet always home in God.

I think I've been distracted from these truths lately, which is unfortunate. I think I've distracted myself. Perhaps because of my strong desires to find a good place for Heather and I to marry and be able to raise children. But this walk is helping me to remember home, both where it cannot be found and where it is always found.


just one more slice

Harrisonburg, VA

This was our fourth day on the road since visiting the nuns. Which means our fourth day without a shower or clean clothes or a hot meal. At the church last night we met a man who offered to come back this morning at 6:30am to open the church so we could get cleaned up and get a cup of coffee. That helped. But as we neared town today and saw Pizza Hut, I felt the need to splurge.

So we looked at the money we had left, bought food to get us to Sunday, and spent the rest on the pizza buffet. As we attacked the food piled high on our plates, Paul says, "With the way Jesus lived, it's easy to see how someone might see him eating and call him a glutton." We sat and enjoyed the food and talked about parenting for an hour and a half.

The only problem was we didn't have any money left to visit a laundromat before Sunday. Maybe we could use a stream, I thought. Paul seemed sure God would provide.

Then an extremely sweaty walk into town. And I check my e-mail and find that Ashley (our new friend from the nameless church in Fredericksburg) has told her parents about us, and her mom, who lives near here, has sent me a message inviting us to stay at her house tonight. I'll have to call to see if she can pick us up (since we inadvertantly walked past her), but I have a feeling it will turn out well.

p.s. Mrs. Hypes did come to get us, we enjoyed a great supper with them, and our laundry is now tumbling in the dryer (O me of little faith!). Paul is already asleep--in a bed. And I'm feeling grateful, looking over our plan for the weekend. It should go something like this. Looks like we may have to dodge some storms...


morning has broken

Staunton, VA

We found a little church on a hill yesterday evening, and there were people there. We introduced ourselves and explained what we are doing, "inspired by how Jesus sent out his disciples." And they invited us to stay inside the church. So we got a good sleep--and a chance to get all the ticks off us!

Then this morning was a miracle. Paul and I had an incredible discussion about the struggles he is going through back at home, and he came to some decisions that amazed and inspired me greatly. This picture, of sunrise over the Blue Ridge mountains, comes close to showing how I felt as we talked.


crossed over to the other side

Waynesboro, VA

A storm came off the mountains as we were eating dinner yesterday, but we found shelter nearby and it passed in less than an hour. Trailing a rainbow. Then there were other beautiful views as we walked: Horses glistening with the rain, framed by dewy tiger lilies, and the sun setting behind the mountains; wispy clouds caught on the highest peaks, the wooded mountains blue in the failing light.

Then, this morning: The sun on the meadows, rolling, speckled with black cattle enjoying their breakfast. Split rail fences. And we got a ride through Rockfish Gap, when a motorist offered to take us up and over.

Now that we're on the other side of the mountains, we'll be turning north soon, taking route 11. A road I've walked twice before. Our next couple days should look something like this.


"But I say to you..."

Crozet, VA

We spent a wonderful evening talking with Joseph, enjoying the treats that someone had given him, Haagen-Daz ice cream and Earl Grey tea. And we got a good rest and washed all our clothes (and our selves), since we don't know when we'll have the chance again.

Then this morning at mass, Joseph preached on one of my favorite passages from the sermon on the mount:

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'

"But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

"Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you."
It's important to hear Jesus say these challenging words again and again.


a beautiful Sunday

Our Lady of Angels Monastery

Walking through Charlottesville yesterday, we ran into Shelly, a Catholic Worker there who was expecting us (she's the one in the picture, with her son, Emerson). "You must be the Pauls," she said, smiling. "Yes," I replied, shifting the weight in my pack and leaning on my staff. "But how did you know it was us?"

Shell and Terry and Brian were great hosts, setting us up in a friend's apartment and inviting us to their potluck party that evening. A good gathering. Ended up meeting a (former) nuclear physicist and enthralling him with my story of going AWOL from a nuclear aircraft carrier.

Then this morning, as we were leaving, we came across a house church service just beginning. So we stopped in. It was at a home for disabled adults, mostly black, and a man and his wife had come in to lead the worship (with drum machine and bass guitar). Very good time. Lively singing, preaching that we could all contribute to, and I was even asked to play a few songs on my recorder. A Spirit-filled gathering.

Then we had a beautiful walk into the mountains to Our Lady of Angels Monastery, where a community of nuns live. And Fr. Joseph Whittstock, who I met years ago at the Berryville monastery. He invited us to visit here in his new home, where he now serves as chaplain. Gorgeous and quiet. So we sang with an evangelical preacher to open the day, and closed the day praying with nuns.


an angry bunch

Charlottesville, VA

Good walk yesterday, through beautiful country, though the motorists seemed a bit aggressive. Maybe because they were just getting off work. Found a wonderful spot near a historic church to stop for the night, and Paul and I had a great talk about standing up (with love) to those who try to silence and dominate us, like Jesus intentionally turning towards the threats in Jerusalem.

We're coming into the mountains now. Our plan for the next two days, from our visit today with the Catholic Workers in Charlottesville, to Our Lady of Angels monastery, and onward, looks like this.

I laughed at this Pearls Before Swine yesterday...


moving again

We're leaving the Little Flower farm today, after a great, restful visit. And we already have two more invitations for visits during the next few days. I'm encouraged. So far, walking with a partner (a good one like Paul) has been noticably better than walking alone.

Other good news: Last night I got two e-mails. One from Rich Foss, an elder at Plow Creek Fellowship (and farm), where Heather and I spent part of last summer. I had just written to him that morning, wondering if they might be open to a retreat ministry for the poor there. His response was encouraging: "Many times over the years I've thought of us having a retreat ministry but the Lord never seemed to raise up folks among us with a desire to do a retreat ministry.... I can see poor people experiencing the peace of Jesus here on retreat." He's going to talk to others there about the idea.

The other message was from my friends at the Clearing, a communal house of Reba Place Fellowship (the mother community of Plow Creek), where I lived for a few years before moving to the Catholic Worker. It's where Heather and I met. I had just written them as well, looking for a place to stay and work once my walk was over. Their immediate reply was that I'm very welcome to stay there while I explore the retreat idea with the Plow Creek folks. Friends in need...


modern forms of persecution

The two Pauls woke up this morning with the farm all to ourselves, roosters crowing wildly, ducks quacking, and dogs greeting us with a lick. It reminded me of the passage from Mark we read yesterday in our prayer time together. Bill and Sue and the kids went to the coast for the day, and we gladly offered to care for the animals while they were gone. They've been so welcoming; it really feels like family.

Over dinner last night, Paul and I talked deeply on a theme I touched on earlier with Bill. How, in our modern democratic states, it's more likely for persecution to come by some form of shunning rather than by physical force (like beatings or jail). In most cases there's no need to sic the police on us and create martyrs. Instead, the majority of people are simply induced to turn away and withdraw support from us, refuse help, turn us away. Which can result in real physical suffering (loss of job, lack of resources), as well as the emotional torment of isolation. And it doesn't look like persecution. It looks like the rejected ones are in the wrong.

It reminds me of a journal entry from five years ago, which begins with a quote from Alexis DeTocqueville's classic, Democracy in America:

In America the majority raises very formidable barriers to the liberty of opinion: within these barriers an author may write whatever he pleases, but he will repent it if he ever step beyond them. Not that he is exposed to the terrors of an auto-da-fe, but he is tormented by the slights and persecutions of daily obloquy. His political career is closed forever, since he has offended the only authority which is able to promote his success. Every sort of compensation, even that of celebrity, is refused to him. Before he published his opinions he imagined that he held them in common with many others; but no sooner has he declared them openly than he is loudly censured by his overbearing opponents, whilst those who think without having the courage to speak, like him, abandon him in silence. He yields at length, oppressed by the daily efforts he has been making, and he subsides into silence, as if he was tormented by remorse for having spoken the truth.

Fetters and headsmen were the coarse instruments which tyranny formerly employed; but the civilization of our age has refined the arts of despotism which seemed, however, to have been sufficiently perfected before. The excesses of monarchical power had devised a variety of physical means of oppression: the democratic republics of the present day have rendered it as entirely an affair of the mind as that will which it is intended to coerce. Under the absolute sway of an individual despot the body was attacked in order to subdue the soul, and the soul escaped the blows which were directed against it and rose superior to the attempt; but such is not the course adopted by tyranny in democratic republics; there the body is left free, and the soul is enslaved. The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people. You may retain your civil rights, but they will be useless to you, for you will never be chosen by your fellow-citizens if you solicit their suffrages, and they will affect to scorn you if you solicit their esteem. You will remain among men, but you will be deprived of the rights of mankind. Your fellow-creatures will shun you like an impure being, and those who are most persuaded of your innocence will abandon you too, lest they should be shunned in their turn. Go in peace! I have given you your life, but it is an existence in comparably worse than death."

Then, I wrote (and I still believe this is true):
Oppression is not eliminated in democracy, it's simply found a more subtle (and more insidious) way to exercise itself.

I think this is precisely the way Christians are persecuted in modern societies. Democracies and democratic organizations attempt to punish (and silence) radical Christians, [usually] not by imprisonment or physical violence, but by shunning. The "offender" is simply excluded from social life, [from society's support]. If the social exclusion is extreme, individuals may literally be forced into exile, though no one lays a hand on them.


"because I testify that its works are evil"

It rained most of the day today, so I'm glad we're here at the farm and not walking. Also, it's given us good time for talking. I found a duck egg on the lawn this morning and scrambled it up with some eggs from their chickens, and Bill made pancakes from scratch, and we sat around the kitchen table talking about Bill's adventures with Plowshares. And adventures in the courts and jails, where he landed because of the Plowshares actions. It was the best presentation I've heard so far about this kind of activism, and the faith behind it. Mostly, I think, because Bill simply spoke of his spiritual quest and personal experiences rather than ideology. His enthusiasm and sincerity impressed me most of all.

I strongly agree with the need to challenge the wrongs in our society, especially those of the powerful. And I also agree that we should expect persecution for this, from those whose deeds we uncover as evil (as Jesus said, "The world hates me because I testify that its works are evil" Jn 7.7).

But I'm not quite satisfied with the way most "direct action" folks put these together. They do speak out against injustice, and they do suffer and go to jail—but is it really because they "testify that its works are evil"? If so, why the need to disrupt traffic, or cut fences and enter military bases, or bang on submarines with hammers? It seems that it's these actions that get them arrested, not their testifying. (Yes, Jesus flipped tables once in a fit of anger, but he didn't make a habit of it, and when he was arrested and tried it was not for flipping tables.)

I also wonder if in this activism there isn't a certain desperation. A feeling that evil is winning and we have to do something, somebody's got to do something, or all will be lost. I wrote a story related to this, based on accounts of the death of a well-known Christian activist:

To the end

The small room was crowded. So many people had gathered around the bed that she couldn't get any closer than the doorway, but it was exciting just to be here. She only worried that she might not be able to hear what he said.

But it was surprisingly quiet, even with all the people packed in, shoulder to shoulder. Then the priest began to pray over him. She bowed her head and listened intently; she wasn't Catholic but she found herself very interested in the "anointing"—it used to be called "last rites." The man on the bed was a Catholic she looked up to, and that made her want to understand the meaning in this religious practice that he'd requested, foreign as it was to her. Everything that was happening in this room seemed full of meaning and significance, and everyone seemed to sense it. She didn't want to miss anything.

Soon she recognized in the priest's words, not a prayer about dying, but a prayer about healing and life. But she knew the people here weren't looking for a miracle. Ever since he'd decided to stop taking chemotherapy they had been bracing for his death, and it seemed to be close now. She knew it was going to be a terrible loss for them. He had been the heart of this community and their peace efforts, an inspiration and guide, a model of fearlessness and compassion. She couldn't remember how many times he'd been in jail for demonstrations against war, the draft, nuclear weapons and nuclear waste, against globalization—he'd never flinched from speaking the hard truth to those in power, and he'd paid the price for that. His life would certainly be remembered. She just hoped they'd be able to go on without him, and live up to his example. The priest finished and it was quiet again.

Then someone helped him sit up a little and he began to speak, and she felt them all press in around the bed. His words came slowly and distinctly. As if he'd been preparing this in his head for days and was now reciting his final message to them and to the world. His voice was weak, but she could hear every word.

"I die among my community and family," he began. "My beloved wife Catherine, and friends, local, national and even international, including some who cannot be here now because they have been imprisoned for speaking the truth. This community has always been a life-line to me. I die with the conviction, held for over thirty years, that nuclear weapons are the scourge of the earth; to mine for them, manufacture them, deploy them, use them, is a curse against God, the human family, and the earth itself.

"We have already exploded such weapons in Japan in World War II and the equivalent of them in Iraq, in Yugoslavia, and in Afghanistan, all in the past decade. We left a legacy for other people of deadly radioactive isotopes—a prime counterinsurgency measure. For example, the people of Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Pakistan will be battling cancer, mostly from depleted uranium, for decades. In addition, our nuclear adventurism over 57 years has saturated the planet with nuclear garbage from testing, from explosions in high altitudes—four of these—from 103 nuclear power plants, from nuclear weapons factories that can't be cleaned up... and so on..." His voice faltered. He tried to clear his throat, coughed, then the words came again. "Because of myopic leadership, of greed for possessions, a public chained to corporate media, there has been virtually no response to these realities..."

The voice was choked off in a gurgle and again the coughing shook his weakened body. His utter helplessness brought tears to her eyes. His wife put an arm around his shoulders, but he couldn't continue. Someone else helped him lay back. There was a sympathetic murmur and people started backing out of the room. She tried to catch what they were saying. Apparently he was just too tired now; they would try to come back later to hear the rest of what he wanted to say.

But there was no later. He died that night. She had only been home a few minutes when she got the phone call.

When she hung up, she turned off the light and sat down on the floor and closed her eyes. First there was only the darkness. Then the question. Why did it have to end this way? He was such a strong man, a fighter—and he had fought to the very end. Just as he had always told them, he never gave up. So why did he have to be dragged down and choked into silence like this? Not by enemies—who hated and feared him, and in their hatred and fear demonstrated their respect for him—but by disease, his own body turning on itself, without cause or sense. Without respect for who he was. Without respect for the man or his message, what he was meant to say to the world, what they needed to hear from him. What she needed to hear from him.

She knew that in the coming days the others would say that his spirit lived on in them. That his death didn't mean the death of their movement, but that his fighting to his last breath only inspired them to fight even harder. But she didn't feel inspired. She felt cheated. Why, God, couldn't you just let him finish? Why did he have to be cut off that way, gasping to say one more thing?

Why couldn't you let him say, "It is finished"? Is that too much to ask, God? Didn't he follow in the footsteps of your son?

Her tears fell into her hands, and she noticed they were trembling. She couldn't stop it. So she reached for the bible on the table beside her bed, opening it at random. She knew it was a silly, superstitious habit, but she'd done it ever since she was a child. It fell open to Isaiah. She read, "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth..."

Jesus standing silent before his accusers, the soldiers, the rulers; not struggling to say one more thing, but silent. "It is finished" came out of that silence. She suddenly knew that. What she didn't know was whether she could ever bear that terrifying silence herself.


little flower

Louisa, VA

We arrived at the Little Flower farm this afternoon, and were warmly welcomed by Bill and Sue. There are lots of animals here, dogs and cats and goats and chickens and ducks. And lots of art, especially tile creations like the big mural in the picture.

Lots of good things to talk about also. Like how they're home-schooling their three kids, or rather "no-schooling" them (also known as "unschooling"). Learning without the regimented institutionalization and social indoctrination. Very interesting. Seems to be working for them; it's built on the fact that children are naturally inquisitive and want to learn. Something I may want to try.

Paul caught up on some sleep today and we got clean. Tomorrow we'll probably help in the garden. As long as we can give our feet a break, that sounds good to me.


first days

Mineral, VA

My feet are sore. And my back, and legs, and ankles. I've gotten soft. I was able to sleep pretty well, though, even in the cold and on concrete. It rained last night and this morning, for seven hours straight, but God had provided a big picnic shelter next to a church. And tomorrow we'll arrive at the Little Flower Catholic Worker farm, where we'll get a couple days rest. (And a shower.)

We've had lots of time to talk together and hear each other's stories. I didn't know Paul very well before we left, but he seems to be a very good partner for this sort of thing, and I'm sure I'll know him well by the time we're done. He's very interested in what God will say to him through our experiences these next five weeks. So am I.

Our first happy surprise was found in our packs the day we left. Someone had secretly tucked some money into each. A little "don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." We're very grateful, both for the gift and the way it was given.

And we'll try not to let it go to our heads...


thank you

[To read through these entries from the road, use the "next page" link near the bottom of each entry to proceed to the next entry. Or note the date of this entry, and use the "journal archive" in the sidebar on the right to view whole months at a time. There are 27 entries for the 2006 pilgrimage.]

Fredericksburg, VA

I used this Calvin & Hobbes comic to make a thank you card for Chris, Natasha, Ryan, Ashley, Ian and Jamie, because they showed us such great love. Paul and I will start walking this afternoon. Here's the revised route for our first leg, which will get us to the Little Flower Catholic Worker farm. Our whole trip should bring us back here in about five weeks. I look forward to returning.

Last night we had a fun dinner gathering at the house (and a nail-biter croquet match). And there was talk of a theme song for our pilgrimage. How about this one...

O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
O how bright the path grows from day to day,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning,
Safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.


one more day with friends

Paul arrived yesterday, but we decided not to start walking until tomorrow because of predictions of rain today. That also meant we could hang around another day.

So last night we went with Chris and Ryan to a local pub to meet Adam and talk theology. Good guys. And an interesting conversation, ranging from Barth and Aquinas on truth and how everything true points to God, to liberation theology, to the institutionalization of ministries and how that tends to quench the Spirit. My question was how to avoid that tendency, and how to avoid grabbing on and trying to "own" what should always be God's work.

It reminds me of Jesus' words, "He who saves his life will lose it." And how he avoided the accumulation of money and power and the lustful possessiveness that accompanies those. This left Jesus weak and vulnerable. "But he who loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it."

Heather should be in France by now. And tomorrow we'll be on the road. Lord, have mercy and bless us, and bless those we meet.


with nothing again

"Whoever would save his life will lose it;
and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it."

I read these words of Jesus this morning, and they stirred me as they have so many times before. Six years ago, on the Appalachian Trail, I wrote this saying in the log book of each shelter I visited. It became my meditation for pilgrimage. And now the circumstances of my life drive the truth of these words deeper into me than ever before.

I've been trying to understand what could cause the Mahoneys to treat us as they did. It was obvious to both Heather and me that their ministry is from God, and that they have been servants of God (and the poor) in bringing it to life. Yet their hearts seemed so narrow and hard when we entered in to help. The only thing I can come up with is that fear was involved, and a strong possessiveness of their work and the things they have gathered and built.

This is perhaps understandable. Once we build something very good, it's hard not to become very attached, to grab onto it. And as people get older and more vulnerable, there's ever increasing pressure to find a tangible source of security, often in a home or material possessions. Also, I know it's never easy to turn our life's work over to others.

Yet we can't "save our life" this way, can we?

One of the reasons Heather and I were so disappointed was that we hoped this place might be God's way of providing so that we could marry and have a family. We thought it might offer the security we felt we needed to take that next step, one filled with risk and unknowns. Yet I find myself feeling much more secure and joyful now, even though it seems we have been stripped of everything. There was even peace and joy as I watched Heather walk out of sight down the airport concourse yesterday. My heart ached and a tear streamed down, but I was not afraid. I was sincerely glad to let her go and follow God's leading for these next seven months, praying he would lead us back together in his time. I'm not even sure where I'll be when she returns.

It feels like I'm left with nothing again. Yet I trust: "Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it."


"when I was in distress"

This morning these lines from Psalm 4 caught my eye...

You have given me room when I was in distress.

You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.



The retreat this past weekend went great. Heather and I loved the women who came from DC, enjoyed offering good hospitality, and were both excited by the idea of doing retreats ourselves. One night we actually danced together under the stars, imagining our future.

Then it all fell apart.

Sunday night, the Mahoneys sat us down and said they had decided that we couldn't be community here together. It's hard to explain their reasons, since I didn't fully understand them, and what I did understand I didn't agree with. But it seems that our presence was very stressful for them. My conclusion from what they said (and from my previous experience with them) is that, despite their need for help, they are actually very reluctant to let others into their home at this point and certainly are not ready to begin turning over their work to anyone else. As they were talking both Heather and I wept with dismay and disappointment.

Their critique was so severe and confusing we weren't sure how to avoid offending them further. This left us in a very uncomfortable situation. We didn't want to burden them any longer, but we needed help as we prepared for our upcoming departures (Heather to Africa and me walking).

Then I remembered our new "nameless church" friends. When I called Chris and Natasha, Ryan and Ashley at Charles House, which they share, they immediately invited us to spend our last few days with them (and also invited Paul, who arrives the day after tomorrow to walk with me). We're with them now, relieved and grateful.

I still think Fr. Stephen was right, though. I believe God did want us to come here. We were both very inspired by the retreat experience with the women and it opened our eyes to the possibility of a ministry like the Mahoneys have. I'm already thinking of how we might do something similar elsewhere. And I do still believe the promises from the Psalms I quoted. We're just not going to see the clear evidence of their truth quite as soon as I expected.

I'll take Psalm 105 with me as I start out on the road again in a few days. Suddenly I'm very much in the mood for pilgrimage. Being kicked out really reinforces the feeling of being society's outcast.


"he remembered his holy promise"

We've been preparing for a retreat this weekend and also learning to work together. I like the little operation the Mahoneys have here. It's exciting to think this may be a home and community and vocation for Heather and me.

Last night they invited Stephen, a young priest from their church, for dinner and mass in their little chapel. To call him excitable would be a vast understatement. Very charismatic, too. Just before his preaching he stops, looks at me and says, "I think God wants you to come here. I don't usually tell people what God wants, but I think he wants you here."

And after mass Stephen begins flipping through the big bible there (a common practice of his) and asks me where he should stop. Then he read where his finger landed. It was Psalm 105:

O give thanks to the LORD, call on his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him,
tell of all his wonderful works!
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!

...He is mindful of his covenant for ever,
...which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute,
to Israel as an everlasting covenant,
saying, "To you I will give the land of Canaan
as your portion for an inheritance."
When they were few in number,
of little account, and sojourners in it,
wandering from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another people,
he allowed no one to oppress them;
he rebuked kings on their account,
saying, "Touch not my anointed ones,
do my prophets no harm!"

...He spread a cloud for a covering,
and fire to give light by night.
They asked, and he brought quails,
and gave them bread from heaven in abundance.
He opened the rock, and water gushed forth;
it flowed through the desert like a river.
For he remembered his holy promise,
and Abraham his servant.
So he led forth his people with joy,
his chosen ones with singing.
And he gave them the lands of the nations;
and they took possession of the fruit of the peoples' toil

It's a favorite, a great pilgrimage psalm. And it echoes what I wrote in my last entry...