Posted on 29. Apr, 2015 by Sam Palpant in Uncategorized
To journey without changing is to be a nomad. To change without journeying is to be a chameleon. To journey and to be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim.
~ Mark Nepo, “The Exquisite Risk”
She stood as still as a statue. Her clothes smelled of smoke. Gray lines streaked her face where tears mingled with the ash. Her neck remained craned, looking behind as she obsessed about all she had possessed–the people, the places, the pleasures. “Oh, Sodom,” she wailed. “I’ll never have it so good again!” The drama and the trauma surrounding the abrupt departure could be understood. I tried to coax her to come along but she refused–the reluctant ruminator. She hardened from the inside out.
I left Lot’s wife paralyzed in place. Needing to move on, I headed for some fresh air. Some years later the two sisters, Martha and Mary, joined me on my pilgrimage.
Martha fixated on what had to be done. She rehearsed her to-do lists. I salivated over her delectable menus and felt inspired by creative table arrangement ideas. For a time, I even rolled up my sleeves and worked side by side with her. Such labor and fortitude. But such expectations. Ah. There was the rub. And before completing one task, she was already talking about the next. She never paused long enough to see the hillside view outside her kitchen window. By the time Mary caught up with me, I felt overloaded.
Mary walked with an easy stride–a combination of serenity and spunk. She left space for God in her life and in our conversations. I watched her move with ease past the urgent to the important and prioritize. She took time to muse over the crocus sprouting and nesting robins. Mary recognized her own spiritual poverty and confidently turned to Jesus for his gifts and graces. She invited me to join her at his feet. “Not that close,” I said to myself, reticent, resisting. But in the end her gentle persuasion won the day. We pondered his words, resting in his love.
At present, regal Queen Esther, poised and purposeful, is walking with me. I’ve never walked with royalty before. She breathes rarified air. Honestly, I wouldn’t blame her if she proved stuck on her bleak beginnings–orphan and all. But raised, prepared and launched by her old cousin, Esther wants to be stretched. She’s awake in the moment, undeterred, undistracted–ready for such a time as this.
Who knows what might happen in our lives if we prayerfully and thoughtfully walk with Bible characters? This experience puts a new definition on “power walking”–that physical exercise that engages both the upper and lower body. It’s one thing to walk in a casual manner with these saints and quite another to do so intentionally. Such rigorous exercise of the spirit allows the Holy Spirit to transform us.
Take Lot’s wife for example. It’s a good thing that this nameless, infamous woman stepped into my life. I’ve always had a propensity to look back at the past and perseverate. Even now, my mind and heart can be dogged by “what if’s” and “if only’s.” Vain regrets sap my energy, harden my heart and steal my sleep. I’m paralyzed with my attention split between past and present. Through her story, the Lord reminds me: Judy, I promise strength for the day. You may squander it analyzing yesterday or use it to live today, but not both. Don’t look back except in gratitude. I want to do a new thing. The exhortation startles me still.
I naturally fall into step with Martha. She is my go-to gal. Any negativity easily allows inner agitation and frustration to breed impatience. And like her, I can be a real task master. Ask my husband. He’ll tell you that before one project is finished I’m pressuring to get the next one done. It’s best to turn my back on Martha, to walk away, and let go of certain expectations. As for hospitality? It can be simplified.
Mary urges me on toward more contemplation–looking for ways to bask in the grace of God. She models how to run relaxed, confident that Jesus will work in and through me. I credit her with getting me to play the piano in a local hospital lobby one hour every week. While making granola or quilting, I sing praises and meditate on Scripture.
And Esther? Already, she’s impacted my posture, both outside and inside. When I’m tempted to slouch or despair, she says, Chin up, Judy. Stand tall. God is your glory and the lifter of your head. (Psalm 3:3)
Interestingly, I didn’t choose any of these women. Never would I have chosen Lot’s wife. But it was my pen that wrote her name in the front of a notebook designed to facilitate a Bible study on the theme of “feet in Scripture.” I penned the names of other Bible women in the other 39 notebooks to give spouses attending the 2002 Christian Medical and Dental Association Continuing Medical Education conference in Brackenhurst, Kenya. As I wrote “Lot’s wife” on the page, I thought, “She won’t be an easy fit for anyone. Who wants to walk with a woman who has her head turned round looking behind her? Surely, I would opt for Mary, Lydia or Ruth with whom to spend ten days.” Had I known that person would be me, I’d have rummaged through the box of notebooks until I found what I thought was a more suitable companion. But as it was, each participant grabbed a notebook out of the box. Since I was the leader, I took the last one.
For some women at the conference, their Bible character proved a puzzle. One participant, Miriam Fountain, expressed this sentiment to me:
“Judy, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I was walking with the bent woman in Luke 13. But gradually, I realized my own position. Since we left the Congo and retired to the US, I’ve been bent over without joy or purpose. We can’t afford for me to accompany Dan on his speaking trips. In my spirit I’ve become so stooped over just like this woman in Luke. The Lord wants me set free. I’m leaving this conference straightened up on the inside.”
We hugged. Her eyes twinkled. I watched her leave. Who would have guessed God would work change in her life through a nameless woman who once showed up at the synagogue 2000 years earlier, where Jesus was teaching?
Another woman, a young mom and missionary working in the Congo felt nothing but frustration walking with the Shunammite woman from chapter 4 of II Kings. I encouraged her to keep pondering, praying.
At the final gathering we sat in two rows of women facing each other. There were other women in the room with us, all biblical characters, all invisible, but very alive in our imaginations. We enjoyed the chance to share our stories as we soaked our feet in basins of water.
With tears, the young mom walking with the Shunammite said,
“Just yesterday, I realized why I am walking with this woman. Like her, I’ve railed against God, ‘Why did you give me children only to take them away to boarding school?’ He responded, “They are mine and I will care for them.”
Her testimony was met with a chorus of empathy from the others.
We all laughed with delight when Karen Chapman announced she’d been walking with Noah’s wife. She and her husband Bob lived and worked among the nomadic Turkana tribe in the arid region of northern Kenya. She told us,
“We’re sisters. We both live with mess. Mrs. Noah cooked and cleaned with all those animals around. In the end, she saw the first rainbow ever to arch the sky–symbol of God’s promise. In Turkana a dust devil can interrupt a meal and cover everything in a blanket of dust and dirt. I have critters too! At night, to avoid scorpions, Bob and I carry our mattress outside and set it on sawhorses for support. There we sleep under the blanket of stars. The Southern Cross seems close enough to touch. Like the rainbow, it speaks of God’s grandeur and grace.”
That conference was the first one where I included walking with a biblical woman as part of the study of feet in Scripture. I took the idea to the Thailand conference the following year where I again got Lot’s wife. I smiled. Several women reported that their prayer requests were answered as they walked with their biblical companion.
Through the years, I’ve spoken on this “feet-theme” at retreats and acquired other biblical walking pals. Each one has taught me something different. And like the old campfire song suggests, I make new friends but keep the old. They remain my circle of companions–invisible, but influential. On a recent sleepless night, I held court on my pillow, calling four of them in to give me their counsel. Lot’s wife shrugged and said, “Good job! Let those worries circle round and round.” With determination, Martha suggested,” Keep it up. Just white-knuckle it.” In my other ear, Mary whispered, “No. Follow Jesus. Lay your burdens down at his feet.” Esther calmly concluded, “No compromising. Approach your Heavenly Father’s throne of grace.” One by one they walked out of my imagination–leaving me alone. I began to slowly pray through the ancient traditional “Daily Examen”:
Come Holy Spirit.
Thanks be to God.
Lord, I want to see.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, show me Your way.
Finally, I felt real freedom of spirit and fell asleep. The next morning I recalled Scrooge, awaking from his night with the three spirits. He jumped out of bed exclaiming: “I am as light as a feather…”
What stories will come out of this year’s journey with Esther? God knows. Pondering her story through commentaries and sermon series inspires me for my own adventure. Esther and I are exploring the landscape of my soul. Through her, God is helping me face my fears and walk in the light. The fellowship is rich as we hoof it uphill and down together. And what a surprise when my eight-year-old grandson recently told me that Esther is his favorite book in the Old Testament. The conversations and pilgrimage continue.
If you have never walked with a character from the Bible, I highly recommend the exercise. Such power walking will enhance your spiritual life. Choose someone yourself or go the random route–write the Bible names on slips of paper. Pick one and share the others with friends, your Bible study or book group. As you walk with this biblical pilgrim, the Holy Spirit will join you just as Jesus came alongside the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. You may end the walk saying, “I’ll never be the same.”
I’d value hearing your stories. Were you at the conference in Kenya or the one in Thailand where I shared about feet in Scripture? Let me know what has happened with your walking partners. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.