Wednesday, May 29, 2013

To be a pilgrim

In his allegory, The Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan embodies the sins, cares and worries of the world in a single object: a burden; a giant weight fastened to the back of those encumbered, and whose straps can only be broken at "the place of deliverance" (symbolically standing in for the Cross and the Tomb).

The oversized illustrated edition of The Pilgrim's Progress that I read as a child depicted the burdens as looking like large hiking backpacks--only, the packs were lumpy, even pointy, and it seemed as though each bump or point on the surface must've surely dug into the shoulders and back of the bearer with every step.

Having on three occasions ventured out into the woods and hills west of Tokyo for a several-day hiking trip, the image of the giant pack means more to me now than it did when I was young.

Easy trails become sweaty work with a heavy pack on.  Difficult trails become nearly impossible--a test that often runs to the last fiber of perseverance and will.  Achey shoulders, a sore back and spots worn raw from the straps continue to cry out even during breaks.

The reality of sin; our worries; our fears; all of these things, we carry on our shoulders.  The burden might be invisible to the casual observer, but this doesn't make it any less real, or any lighter.  I'm keenly aware of this tonight: I have experienced a lot of significant changes in my life over the past six months.  Some of these changes have been the cause for much rejoicing.  They have also been the cause for much more worry, fear and anxiety than I had ever previously known.

Tonight, as I lie in bed and try to take deep breaths and calm my anxious spirit after a long day of busy grading, and no shortage of worry about other things, it feels as though I have a large burden resting on my shoulders, digging in and causing me to feel achey, queazy and breathless.

Perhaps due to preoccupation with the weight, I forget too easily that to be free from my burden, I do not need to so much as step out of my front door as Christian did in Bunyan's story.  I turn instead to Matthew 11 and listen to Jesus' invitation:

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

"The place of deliverance" is at the feet of the King and it is a destination we are called to in prayer.  Now, I know that I'll feel better after I lay my burden--all these cares and worries, all my sins and missteps, all my anxieties and insecurities before Jesus.  I also know that I'll probably forget to do so tomorrow and take up my burden once again.  How easily we forget; how distractible and short-attentioned we creatures are.  May God transform my heart to be in a constant state of searching; to be in a constant state of bringing my burdens to Him and walking away filled with His grace and the Peace which passes all understanding.