Night With the Lutherans

06/26

Palisades, CA

The first church I sought shelter at was United Methodist.  There were a bunch of hats on display and the only two people inside tried to sell me one.  I already had one for the walk, but I humored them by trying it one on.

They offered me lemonade and asked me if I needed anything.  I told them about my pilgrimage and asked if I could seek shelter at the church, even if it just meant sleeping outside.  Since neither of them were in charge, they hemmed and hawed quite a bit.  There wasn’t really much they could do.  They mused over the idea of letting me stay there, though they said they’d have to inform the groundskeeper, who lived on the premises.  They didn’t want him to freak out.  Finally, they sent me down the road to a building where the church held spiritual retreats.  They said that the site manager might be able to help me.

The site manager wasn’t there, but his cell number was on the door . I got him on the phone and explained my situation.  He said he would like to offer me a bed, but the retreat house was totally booked.  I told him I would be more than happy to sleep outside, if that was okay.

He said he could work something out and to touch base with him in a few hours.  I walked back to the library, happy to have found a place to sleep on my first night.

Less than an hour later, he called me back.

“Hi, Daryl,” he said.  “You know, the more I think about it, I really don’t think I can help you out tonight.  The retreat house is already booked, and I’m not sure how the current guests will feel about me letting you stay there, since they’ve already reserved and paid for their spots.  It just wouldn’t be fair to them, you know?  I gotta think about them first.  They might be upset.  I’d at least have to ask them.  I owe it to them to meet their needs first.  So I’m sorry to flip-flop on you, but I don’t think I can help you.  Maybe if I had a little bit more notice, I could.  But there are other churches in the neighborhood who could help you.”

In hindsight, I should have said, “Fine.  Let’s ask the retreat guests how they feel about it.  I’ll even ask them myself.”  But I just bit my tongue and said, “Well, thank you for trying.”  He seemed so reluctant to help me, I just didn’t want to press him.  “God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corin. 9:7)” and he didn’t sound very cheerful.  I didn’t want to secure shelter by giving someone a guilt trip.

Tried a Presbyterian church next.  No one was there but the praise band, rehearsing for Sunday service.  I didn’t want to interrupt them during practice, so I sat and waited for them to enter the parking lot.  They looked frightened when I approached them, so I knew I wasn’t going to find help here.  I was right.

I went to the Lutheran church next door, and stumbled right into the middle of a potluck dinner being held in the courtyard.  There were five adults and a baby.  They all looked at me and smiled.  An elderly man said to me, “From the size of that backpack you got, it looks like you’re traveling a ways!”

I knew then that I was going to be all right.

The older man was, in fact, the pastor of the church.  He said I could sleep in the church courtyard if I wanted to.  They invited to stay and eat with them.

“You want some watermelon?” one of them asked.
I cringed.  I was only black person there.
“Maybe watermelon wasn’t the first thing you should have offered him,” a woman said, embarrassed.
I smiled at her.  “I’m glad you said something,” I said.  “That was a little awkward.”
“How about some chicken?” the man continued, now embarrassed as well and trying to make up for it with a joke.  “It’s not fried, but…”
I sighed internally.  The truth was, I know he didn’t mean any harm by offering me the watermelon.  But the joke was now making it worse.
“I don’t think that’s any better,” the woman said.  She turned to me, “How about some peanuts? Although that’s probably not much better either…”
“You know what?” I said, “I’m going to have some watermelon.  It’s not a big deal.  I like watermelon.” So I had some watermelon, as well as chicken (not fried), two hotdogs, and pineapple.

The pastor asked me why I was walking.  I told him the Holy Spirit had descended into my heart and called me to walk.
“Do you know what you want to do?” he said.
“Maybe something in ministry,” I said.
“What’s your tradition?”
“United Methodist.”  I said, leaving out the Buddist, Taoist, Hindu, and Gnostic influences.  No need to get into that just yet.
“If you’re United Methodist, that will mean seminary.”
I nodded.  “I’m also trying to understand what Jesus referred to as the ‘mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.'”
“Ah,” he said.  He mentioned a book by N.T. Wright, which I believe was Surprise By Hope,
in which the author says that a Christian theology that emphasizes the afterlife actually misses the point – Christians should be working to make the world a more peaceful, loving, and just place.

That’s what a big part of my pilgrimage is about.  Seeking God’s kingdom on Earth now.  Jesus says several things about the kingdom – that it’s near (Matthew 3:2), that it is in our midsts or within us (Luke 17:21, depending on the translation), that it is inside us and outside us (Gospel of Thomas 3), and that it is spread out over the earth, though we can’t see it (Gospel of Thomas 113).

I don’t feel God’s kingdom every minute of every day.  I can sense it a little though.  I feel its potential within me and within the world around me.

As we finished eating and started cleaning, the woman who offered me the peanuts said, “I saw that movie 42 – the one with Jackie Robinson.”
“Right,” I said.  “I haven’t seen it.”
There’s this scene when he comes up to bat, and people start shouting, “Nigger! Nigger! Nigger!”

Each time she says the word, it feels like a slap.  I don’t begrude her using it, because she’s quoting a line from the movie, but I still don’t like it.
“It was awful,” she said, “but I guess they had to be accurate – I mean, that’s the word people used back then…”
“They’re using that word now,” I said.
“Well…not everyone,” she said.  I could hear the testiness in her voice.  “I’m just confused by organizations like the NAACP.  The National…Advancement….”
“The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People,” I said.
“Right.  ‘Colored people’ is in their title.  But if you say the phrase ‘colored people’, they get upset.  I don’t understand…if they don’t want to be called that, they should change the title of the organization.”
“That’s valid,” I said. “But when the organization was founded, that was the acceptable phrase.  That’s the name that we all recognize.  It has a reputation and is embodied with respect and legacy.  Sorta like branding.  It makes sense for them to keep it.”
“Mm,” she said.

Everyone left.  The pastor gave me his business card and told me to show it to the security guard if the guard bothered me in the middle of the night.  Before the pastor locked up the church, he let me in to use the bathroom and fill up my water bottle.

“Thank you,” I said.
“I wish I could do more for you,” he said.
“This is fine.  Really.  Thank you.”

I slept…okay.  Ants had pretty much taken over every square inch of the courtyard, and if they weren’t attacking me from the ground, the mosquitos were attacking me from above.  After moving to about four different spots throughout the course of the night, I got about 3 + hours of sleep.  It got cold, but between my sleeping bag and my jacket, I managed to stay pretty warm.  It was a much more comfortable night compared to the first night of my pilgrimage almost four years ago.

I woke up feeling a little rank, but well-rested.  I put a hand over my heart and prayed:

“Keep going or turn back?”
Keep going.

In Santa Barbara

For all you who have been following the blog, or have sent me messages and comments of encouragement, many thanks.  I will write you back soon.

Sorry for the lack of updates.  Things have been moving really fast over the last two days.  I’ve barely had time to sit and process it all, let alone write about it.  Currently in a holding pattern in Santa Barbara.  Long story.  I promise I will tell it.

Just wanted to let everyone know I’m good and safe, clean and dry, fed and restored.  People have been very good to me.  God has been very good to me. Will write more soon.  I promise.

First Day

Spent the last two days at my friend’s place, recovering.  Turns out I needed it.  Not just physically, but for a bit more mental and spiritual preparation.  The degree of attachment I have to “successfully completing” a pilgrimage is staggering.  That’s where a lot of the fear is coming from.  That I won’t “make it.” That I won’t “succeed.”  As if the whole point is to tell people that I walked “such and such a distance.  Look how special I am.”

Pride.

Thought about giving up a lot.  I’m noticing though, that the voice in my head telling me that I’ll fail is coming from within my head, but the voice urging me forward is coming from my heart.  That’s the voice I usually don’t listen to.

As a going-away gift, my friend gave me a small book full of Buddhist mantras and a harmonica. He drove me to the beach in Santa Monica.  He stopped the car.

“You sure you want to do this?” he said.

“Yes,” I said, quaking in my hiking boots.

We both got out of the car.  He hugged me, got back in, and drove off.

I started walking.  The fear went up a couple notches, and I started feeling like I’d made a big mistake.

I passed a homeless-looking guy as I walked along the beach.  Long haired, bearded, dirty skin and filthy clothes, carrying two shopping bags.  Am I going to wind up like him? I wondered.

As we passed, the man smiled at me and said, “Have a good weekend in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Surprised, I said, “You too, brother.”
I felt ashamed at how quickly I had judged him, based on his appearance.  I had just assumed he was some aimless wanderer.  I knew nothing of his story, how he got there, where he was headed.   He could have been a saint, for all I knew.

I have a lot to learn.

I took a break and sat on the beach for a while, talked to a friend on the phone, and got an encouraging email from a blog subscriber.  By this point, a lot of the fear had dissipated, and I actually started to enjoy myself.  I put my hands over my heart and I prayed.

“Do I keep going or go back?” I asked.
“Keep going!” came the answer from my heart.

One day at a time.  One step at a time. Until the answer is, “Go back.”  No attachment to results.  Just waiting on God, letting the Holy Spirit direct my course.

Currently at the library.  It’ll be dark soon.  Time to visit some churches and seek shelter.

Man Plans…

…and God laughs.

I woke up yesterday morning with a sore throat and a weak body.  My throat had been sore the day before, but I was hoping it was just the weather and that I’d be fine the next morning.

I knew I couldn’t start the walk feeling this way, which was really demoralizing.  I started asking myself what this meant:  did it mean that I was wrong to attempt this again?  That I wasn’t strong enough?  Was this some kind of test?

I started taking it personally, looking at it as yet another failure.  And that showed me how much my ego is wrapped up in this.  Getting sick (I think now it is allergy-related) was a cold dose of reality.   I’ve been trying to do this according to my time table, and not necessarily God’s.  I’ve been trying to maintain a certain degree of control over this whole project, and my current  state of being is showing me just how little control I actually have.

This pilgrimage, this walk…it doesn’t belong to me.  It’s not for me.

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’ Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring.  For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this this or that.'” – James 4:13-15

Whatever He wishes, let it be so.

New Pilgrimage Walk

After about a month of deliberation, prayer, meditation, and planning, I’m setting off on another pilgrimage tomorrow.

It won’t be nearly as ambitious as my across-the-country attempt, in terms of distance.  As far as my final destination, I’m waiting to see how it goes, only because I’ve already had the experience of saying, “I’m walking this far!”, complete with fanfare and dramatic emails written to everyone in my contact list, only to have it all blow up in my face.

So I’m trying to take it one day at a time and give each day over to God.  If the Spirit moves me to keep walking, I’ll keep going.  If it’s time to turn back after a day, I’ll turn back.

I will say that I’ll be walking north along the California coast.

There are a few things I’m doing different this time around that I didn’t do last time:

1. I’m starting at the beginning of summer, as opposed to the end, so it should be much warmer.

2. I’m bringing supplies: extra clothing, food, water, sleeping bag, etc.

3. I’m planning my route more thoroughly.

4. I’m trying to stay as open as possible to the guidance of the Spirit.  Each day, I try to search myself and offer up any unresolved or doubtful parts of my being to the light of examination.  I ask myself why I’m doing this, and I look closely to see if my answer have any ring of falseness.  That being said, it’s hard to be objective with one’s self, so I also…

5.  …have told people about it before setting off.  This has been met with mixed responses.  Some have been supportive and encouraging.  Others have disapproved.

I had one conversation with a friend of mine that was particularly painful, and I realized that I was afraid his disapproval and the disapproval of my other friends and family. When I can hear the disappointment in their voice, it hits me right to the core, and it hurts.

Pain is my greatest fear.  That fear has dictated more choices I’ve made in life than I care to admit.

I seriously considered abandoning this whole enterprise because I was afraid of disappointing so many people all over again.

For the longest time, I’ve felt that the thing standing between us and God is the thing we fear the most.  Not that anything truly separates us from God, but fear prevents us from being able to feel God’s presence.

When I was a kid, I heard my pastor say that the commandment most often quoted in the Bible is “Fear not.”

When I’m deep in prayer, those are the words that rise out of my heart.  “Don’t be afraid.”

During this pilgrimage, I wish to confront my fear of pain, holding on to God all the while, knowing that of myself I can do nothing.

I’ll admit it: I’m terrified right now.  Excited but terrified.  I’m really afraid of making the wrong decision yet again.  I feel like the Spirit is calling me to walk again, but how can I be 100% sure?  I feel a pushing and an urging, and it feels like the right move, down in my gut, once I get past all the fear and anxiety, but how do I really know?

To that affect, this prayer, written by Thomas Merton, has been helpful:

O Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going,
I do not see the road ahead of me,
I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,
And that fact that I think
I am following Your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe
That the desire to please You
Does in fact please You.
And I hope I have that desire
In all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything
Apart from that desire to please You.
And I know that if I do this
You will lead me by the right road,
Though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust You always
Though I may seem to be lost
And in the shadow of death.
I will not fear,
For You are ever with me,
And You will never leave me
To make my journey alone.

Dream Signs

Free_texture_-_purple_dream_(6922675229)The third part of the Road to Peace Pilgrim series.

I woke up in the middle of the night.  At least…I thought I was awake.  I was in my bed.  Everything had this hazy quality to it.  Like looking at a TV with bad reception.  And I was paralyzed again.

I felt someone come into my room.  I thought it was my roommate.  “Aaron?” I said.

But it wasn’t Aaron.  Whoever – whatever  – it was, it was giving off an aura of malevolence.  It rushed up to my bed, knelt down beside me, and whispered things to me.  Accusing things.  Hateful things.  Things about myself.  What a worthless person I was.  The insults were coming at me so fast, I couldn’t even keep up with them.  I just listened, wide-eyed, in shock.

I caught the last phrase, though:

“…and your bathroom is a mess!” I blinked, and then smiled.  I couldn’t help but smile.  Of course.

Of course my personal demon would lay into me about keeping my bathroom neat.

I reached deep down inside myself and pulled out all the love I could muster and sent it towards this being.  I don’t really know why I thought to do that.  It was instinct more than anything else.

Immediately, the being vanished.  I was free.  I stood up immediately looking around the room.  I saw green and blue blobs floating around on my floor.  I blinked. Wait a minute, I thought.  Am I still..?

I blinked and I was back in bed, waking up for real.

The next night there were no visitations.  Just incredibly lucid dreams.

An old Russian woman spoke to me of a past life we shared together…

Martin Luther King made an appearance:  “Behold the land of Canaan,” he said, “whether Caanan’s land is here or not.”

Then, oddly enough, my final visitor was a friend I knew from work.  She told me that I had chained all the people I knew in my life to my ego.  I needed to let them go.  “Nobody can give you what you already possess within yourself,” she said.  “Release your brothers.”

And that was it.  The dreams, the night paralysis…it all stopped after that.  Everything went back to normal.

Everything but me.