For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Lessons from the Camino to Santiago - 2

My wife and I recently completed a 170 mile walk from Porto, Portugal to Santiago, Spain. This is the second post reflecting on some of the lessons learned while walking. To read about why we walked and the first lesson, click here.

Have you ever walked along a beach and wondered what it would be like to simply keep on walking?

Well, we found out and it is wonderful! We followed the coastline for over 100 miles. You could not get lost because all you had to do was keep the ocean on your left and keep walking. The sound of waves was our constant companion as we made our way north.

There were miles of virtually empty beaches that beckoned us to relax. Sometimes we walked right on the beach, but the sugar sand makes for difficult walking. Thankfully, boardwalks have been built along huge stretches of the coastline.

Are the beaches always empty? Probably not. Some of them are well developed, but this was May, the kids were still in school, and tourist season had not started yet. Other beaches were more remote, far from parking lots and services, and I imagine that not many visitors ever go there.

There were also miles of rocky shores where the surf pounded against the granite rocks. Tiny crabs scrambled among the pools while gulls circled overhead. Every wave was different and I could have watched them for hours on end. The blue of the ocean suddenly changed into the brightest of whites when the water collided with the rocks. Then I noticed something else. Every once in a while the sun would hit the spray of the water just right and a miniature rainbow would appear. Water, a common clear substance, had the ability to appear blue, then white, and then the full spectrum of colors. I understand the science of the refraction of light, but what flooded my soul at that moment was a sense of wonder. It was like I was seeing water for the first time.

After walking for a hundred miles along the ocean, I dreaded heading inland and losing the magic of the coast. Much to my astonishment, there was beauty everywhere I looked. At times is was the vista from the summit of some hill that we had climbed. Villages and distant hills looked like post cards. At other times it was a centuries-old bridge that invited

Then there were the flowers. Some were wildflowers while others were planted with great care. At every bend we would exclaim, "Look at those flowers!" We would stop and take pictures or simply pause and smell their sweet aroma. I was amazed to see that some people's love of flowers extended to planting roses in the midst of their vineyards.

As we walked, we often found ourselves singing or meditating on the psalms. Words like these:

Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
mightier than the waves of the sea,
the LORD on high is mighty! (Psalm 93:4)

You make the springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills;
they give drink to every beast of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell;
they sing among the branches.
From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
(Psalm 104:10-14)

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
(Psalm 19:1)

In Minnesota, I lived in a house on a wilderness lake and often was delighted by the cry of the loon, the howl of the wolf, or the sound of wind in the towering pines. I have often headed out into the wilderness for a week with my supplies in a canoe and come back refreshed. I understood the restorative power of being outdoors. Yet somehow these two weeks of walking were different. It was as if I was given a fresh set of eyes to see the world. What was it about this journey that had this effect?

Thomas Dubay writes that a lack of wonder at beauty arises from a kind of boredom and callousness
that comes from excess and overindulgence. Modern life is filled with things artificially super-charged so that they attract our attention. But these super-charged things do not satisfy our souls. It is similar to the way that a person eating a steady diet of candy no longer finds strawberries sweet. Their tastebuds have changed and seek ever-sweeter artificial tastes while deep within they really need the nutrition that only real fruit can provide. In the same way, a person who is always looking for the latest, greatest, "super-charged" thing to make him happy in life can become jaded and cynical when he or she is repeatedly disappointed. They have been deceived too many times. As a result, dullness and boredom seeps into their lives like a cold fog.

Pilgrimage has a way of clearing away the fog. It is a fast of sorts. Our bodies are used to sitting much of the day. Our chairs are comfortable and our workstations ergonomically designed. Walking for hours on end is foreign. Carrying a pack is a strain on long-unused muscles. The artificially enhanced visual inputs of our screens are taken away. It is just us, the path ahead, and the creation around us.

Walking for hours also demands breaks to rest. As your legs cry out for a break, your eyes are searching for appealing input. The result is that we begin noticing things that can serve as an excuse to stop. The lichen on the rock becomes interesting. You pause to study it and take a picture. The petals of a flower, the fineness of the sand, the strength of a common ant all begin to fill your soul with a sense of wonder. You begin to see beauty everywhere. Wonder returns as our eyes become recalibrated to seeing true beauty. And that leads to worship of the Creator.

So what lesson did I learn?

My life was too busy and too preoccupied to notice the glory of God being revealed in the world around me. The Scriptures clearly teach that the creation bears witness to the Creator. Glimpses of His beauty are revealed in the things that he has made. I need to slow down and notice. "Consider the lilies...", Jesus said. He told his disciples that not even Solomon's robe compared to their beauty. Preachers like me will carefully dissect his words to make sure we understand the meaning of what he said so that we can communicate it clearly to others. It is important work. Ironically, we can do it without obeying what he told us to do! He told us to consider the lilies and yet we spend an hour looking up cross-references rather than going out into a garden and spending fifteen minutes carefully considering the lilies! Our souls (and our sermons) are poorer for it.

God has designed the creation to display his glory. Let's take time to look and see his beauty revealed in the things that he has made.

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