Pilgrim’s… Progress?

As my recent post may have made clear, the theme of pilgrimage and our status as pilgrims has been weighing on my mind. This is a theme that, depending on your church, has likely either not been examined or is not so greatly emphasized. It is a strong theme within many Orthodox works. Many mystics from both Orthodoxy and Catholicism have embraced the theme of pilgrimage.

Of course the theme of journeying (for whatever reason) is deeply ingrained in many of our cultures. It is part of many of our narratives and meta-narratives. Which is why it is surprising to me that churches don’t seem to be emphasizing how, as Christians, our entire lives are a journey.

Of course the title of my post comes from a work that many consider to be one of the great classics of Christian devotional work by John Bunyan. I actually rather like this work, in spite of the fact that I rather strongly disagree with John Bunyan’s theology. He characterizes the Christianity of the previous 1.600 years as “leading many astray.” Well, it’s nice to know that after 1.600 years someone has finally gotten it right!

But let’s set aside those theological disagreements for a moment. What I really like about Pilgrim’s Progress is the depiction of the pilgrims on their way. They are a varied group of people, traveling at varied speeds. One particular character is named “Halting.” They’re not all strong characters. Many give into temptation or stray from the proper path. Some are slower travelers or doubters. Yet, none of these people are abandoned. Fellow pilgrims help them or travel with them, even knowing their handicaps. And when one of these pilgrims strays, they don’t give up. At the same time it’s not impossibly difficult for the pilgrim to “get back on track” as it were.

I think these two themes really overshadow the flaws in Pilgrim’s Progress. Pilgrims serve one another, and if they are led astray, the way back is always open. Then, at the end of the journey, even the detours are simply part of the “progress.”

I’ve had a couple of bad experiences with some groups who have a theology that says at some point God is just fed up with our sins and says “enough is enough.” Then God somehow withdraws himself. It’s a terrifying thought for a Christian. Every time I made some mistake, I was worried that this was it. I’d gone just one step too far.

So it’s interesting to me that a dyed-in-the-wool Calvinist named John Bunyan depicts such a different allegorical world. Pilgrims travel, they make mistakes, they repent, and move on. It’s hard for me to break that old mindset sometimes, but praying the daily prayers in my Orthodox prayer book helps. The morning and evening prayers both always contain prayers of repentance for committed sins. We will continue to sin until we achieve theosis. And for most of us theosis won’t happen in this life. So in the meantime we journey, we make mistakes, we repent, and we move on. And, in the end, even our mistakes will become part of our perfection.


P.S. My next post incorporating some of my thoughts on pilgrimage as a theme will deal (by request) with the idea of people who are unsure where their destination lies, but feel that they must journey. In the meantime, I’ll be organizing (ha!) my thoughts.


~ by crossingthebosporus on August 15, 2012.

5 Responses to “Pilgrim’s… Progress?”

  1. Thank you for a lovely post; it really is good to have your voice back in our joint conversations. 🙂 The one thing, almost the only thing, of which I am sure, is that God’s love for us is beyond our imagining, and that goes for His patience too.

  2. Looking forward to the next part.

  3. […] following is a more "formal" post inspired from crossingthebosporus Pilgrim's Progress? and We Must Journey, but also mainly taken from Josef Pieper. In Catholic philosophy and theology […]

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