The peace pilgrim was a woman who walked more than 25,000 miles, carrying on her body her only possessions. She crossed America for nearly three decades witnessing to the simplest message, “This is the way of peace: overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth and hatred with love.” I’m told that she wandered through Jackson Mississippi at least once and I suspect that she came through Memphis as well
PEACE PILGRIM’S STORY
This story is in her own words. “Let me tell you a story about an answer to prayer. I was picked up late one night by a young policeman as I was walking along a lonely highway. I believe he was thinking in terms of protective custody. He said to me, ‘Why, nobody in this town would walk out along this highway at this time of night.’ I said to him, “Well, you see, I walk completely without fear. Therefore I’m not attracting things which are not good. It says, “That which I feared came upon me. But I fear nothing and expect only good.”
He took me in anyhow, and I found myself in a cell. The floor was littered with old newspapers and cigarette butts and every old thing. The accommodations consisted of a single mattress on the floor and four ragged blankets. There were two women attempting to sleep together on that single mattress. The told me there had been eight women in that cell the night before with those accommodations. There was a rather nice feeling among the prisoners in general. They said to me, ‘You’ll need two blankets because you’ll be sleeping on the floor.’ So I took a newspaper and cleared a place on the floor, and put one blanket downs and the other blanket over me and slept comfortably enough.
It wasn’t the first time I had slept on a cement floor, nor the last. If you’re relaxed you can sleep anywhere. When I woke up in the morning I say this man staring through the bars. I said to him, ‘What time does court convene?’ He said, ‘I don’t know.” I said ‘Well, aren’t you a policeman?’ “No,’ he said, “I just like to look at the girls.’ It was one of the town sports. Anyone could come in right off the street and see what they had there today: ‘Let’s go look at the girls!’
One of the women was middle aged and was being held for being drunk and disorderly. It was her seventh offense, she told me, so it wasn’t so hard on her. But the other was an eighteen-year-old girl. She felt her entire life was ruined because of this experience. I said, ‘It’s my second time and I certainly don’t think my life is ruined!’ I got her all cheered up and we talked about what she’d do when she got out. She was to get out that day or the next day.
Then they changed the guards. I never saw a matron. The new guard saw me and said, ‘What are you doing in there? I saw your picture in the newspaper. I heard you over the air.’ Then they just let me go. But before I left I got a broom from the man who cleaned up around there and gave it to the girls so they could clean up their cell. I also got them a comb; their hair was all matted. They had been there about a week without a comb.
What I really wanted to tell you is that the eighteen-year-old girl was a deeply religious person. She had been desperately praying for help. I believe that I was picked up off the highway that night and set behind prison bars in answer to her prayers.”
PEACE PILGRIM – PAUL & SILAS
This is the story of a woman at peace. Peace is not the opposite of conflict it is richer than that. Peace is a growing oneness with God and that peace may produce a conflict that doesn’t look very peaceful. I am struck by the similarity between her story and the story of Silas & Paul (Silas should first billing occasionally) in chapter 16:16-40 of the Acts of the Apostles. Paul and Silas wandered around proclaiming the Good News of the Resurrection. When they cast out a demon from a slave girl her owners were furious and they wound up in jail. An earthquake opened the jail in the middle of the night and the jailer was ready to kill himself because if any of the prisoners escaped he would have been executed anyway. But none of the prisoners had gone anywhere. The jailer discovered in Paul and Silas a power beyond anything he had ever seen before. He and his household were baptized. Both the jailer and the slave-owners had a religious experience. For the jailer it was good news and to the owners of the slave girl, who lost their investment it was bad news.
GAIN DISGUISED AS LOSS
The experience of Paul, Silas and Peace Pilgrim could be described as GAIN disguised as LOSS. Jesus dying on the cross and laid in the tomb was gain disguised as loss. How do we live into this “up-side-down” way of thinking which discerns gain disguised as loss? In her writings Peace Pilgrim speaks of four preparations for a spiritual life which I think point toward gainful loss.
A: ASSUME RIGHT ATTITUDES TOWARD LIFE:
“Stop being an escapist or a surface-liver as these attitudes can only cause in-harmony in your life. Face life squarely and get down below the froth on its surface to discover its truths and realities.”
Three young men hid themselves on a Sabbath in a barn in order to smoke. The elder discovered them and threatened to flog them for their misbehavior. One young man said, “I deserve no punishment for I forgot that today was the Sabbath.” The second youth said, “And I forgot that smoking on the Sabbath was forbidden.” The third young man said, “I, too, forgot.” “What did you forget, he was asked?” He replied, “I forgot to lock the door.”
Facing the truth about our motivations and what we are doing is essential to life in the Spirit.
B. LIVE GOOD BELIEFS.
The word “good” comes from the same Indo-European root word as the words gather and together; it means being joined or united in a fitting way.” Harmony and connectedness is a part of spirituality. Peace Pilgrim said, “Begin by putting into practice all the good things you believe.” Good beliefs are not just pious thoughts. To do the good is to see that all things, including you and me belong to a greater whole AND to begin to act like that is so.
C. FIND YOUR PLACE IN THE PATTERN OF LIFE.
Peace Pilgrim said, “You have a part in the scheme of things. What that part is you can know only from within yourself. You can seek it in receptive silence. You can begin to live in accordance with it by doing all the good things you are motivated toward and giving those things priority in your life over all the superficial things that customarily occupy human lives.”
When a man whose marriage was in trouble sought his advice, the Master said, “You must learn to listen to your wife.” The man took his advice to heart and returned after a month to say that he had learned to listen to every word his wife was saying. Then the Master said with a smile, “Now go home and listen to every word she isn’t saying.”
We must learn and find our place in the scheme of things. John quotes Jesus in chapter 21 of his Gospel where Jesus prayed for the disciples; “…that they would be one, as the Father and the Son are one.” That is our place in the things of things.
D. SIMPLIFY LIFE TO BRING INNER AND OUTER WELL- BEING INTO HARMONY.
The Peace Pilgrim writes, “Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens. Many lives are cluttered not only with unnecessary possessions but also with meaningless activities. Wants and needs can become the same in a human life and, when this is accomplished, there will be a sense of harmony between inner and outer well being.”
That brought to mind the words of the Kentucky agrarian poet, Wendell Berry, “Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.”
GIVING IS NOT LOSS BUT GAIN
The story is told of the time before time, when the world was young, two brothers shared a field and a mill. Each night they divided the grain they had ground together during the day. Now as it happened, one of the brothers lived alone; the other had a wife and a large family. One day, the single brother thought to himself, “It isn’t really fair that we divide the grain evenly. I have only myself to care for, but my brother has children to feed.” So each night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary to insure that his brother was never without.
But the married brother said to himself one day, “It isn’t really fair that we divide the grain evenly, because I have children to provide for me in my old age, but my brother has no one. What will he do when he is old?” So every night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary so that he would never lack for anything.
As a result, both of them always found their supply of grain mysteriously replenished each morning. Then one night the brothers met each other halfway between their houses, suddenly realized what had been going on, and embraced each other in love:
GAIN DISGUISED AS LOSS IS AT THE HEART OF THE GOSPEL
The longer I read the scriptures the more I am struck by the symmetry of the whole book. We see this today in the reading from the Revelation to Saint John, which are the last words of the Christian Scriptures on matters of redemption and consummation. The words at the end of the Revelation to Saint John are the antidote to the words in Genesis 3:24 which says, “God drove out the man; and at the east of the Garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.” Ever since our ancestors, Eve and Adam, were evicted from paradise, humanity has been trying to get back in. But the Bible tells us that we can’t go back only forward.
- The Old Testament is the record of the journey from Eden to the Promised Land.
- The New Testament is the continuing saga of the people of God who are joined by God’s Son in our pilgrimage to God.
Our Lord by his death and resurrection overcame sin and death. In Christ Jesus God has reconciled the whole world to Himself. Hear again the words that are the last words of God on the subject: “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes to take the water of life as gift. The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
When we think of our lives, the regrets, losses, brokenness and those things that make no sense to us it is important to remember that these events are the middle not the end of the story. The story is not over yet!
In Christ Jesus GAIN is disguised as LOSS. Let us never forget that in the end all will be well.