Autumn is a time of particular beauty, with haunting colors that are the stage set for celebrations of saints and souls and sojourners. We are all passing pilgrims. The psalmist declares, “I sojourn with you like a passing stranger, a guest, like all my ancestors!” (Psalm 39:13) Years circle, children grow, trees extend, blossom and flower and fruit are borne and fade, water freezes-flows-and mists. And each moment is painfully wonderfully precious. But we are guests upon the earth. Here is amazing matter that absolutely matters. But it – and we – change… and we are not long here. Are we invited to walk differently for this knowledge? And can it be celebrated?
Years back, reading one of Rev. Margaret Guenther’s works, I reveled in her concept of providing to fellow journeyers the gift of ‘guest-friendship’. There is an art to welcoming and providing a geography for grace and a haven for heart’s unfolding to one we have invited into our homes or into our lives. We prepare and wish to make the other comfortable – so that laughter may come, stories may be shared, rest may be enjoyed, nourishment embraced and stored, tears touched, learning lived. When we offer another guest-friendship, we offer them a home and shelter. We create sanctuary.
So, what if autumn tells us that we are really all guests, like all our ancestors? We are sojourners on the ways, travelers of paths. We root and stretch, green and grow, flower and fade, and fill with color and beauty.
There is an awareness and practice that is important to me whenever I visit a retreat center/house. In such sacred spaces, many guests have previously used the room I dwell within for my time there… and many more will fill this space after I leave. I have long been mindful of those that would follow me into this space. As I pack and remake beds and straighten and clean a bit, I stop and pray for those who will sit in this very chair, rest or stay wakeful in this bed, pace or be still in the internal acreage. I send a blessing their way – for whatever they will need that I know nothing of. In this way, I offer hospitality to another pilgrim to a place neither of us will remain. I have only recently resolved to enter the room, on my arrival, gently – quietly-humbly mindful of those who trekked and prayed and rested here, grateful for their christening of the space I too will stretch and live and be nourished within.
“Friends of God and prophets”, family members and distant ancestors, saints and souls – all traveled the earth space and lived the temporal measures that you and I inhabit now. Like us, they were as beautiful, complex, loved, and fleeting as the beautiful autumn vistas or the individual red-gold veined leaf.
Let’s you and I live increasingly aware of – and practicing through concrete actions and choices – the unbroken chain of connection that exists between the sojourners on the ways, of which we are some. Perhaps we can consider our time in years and generation and even cultural context as parabled in the image of my time at the retreat center – or yours, in visiting a dear friend or family member or glorious panorama. What if we accept the guest friendship of those who have come before us and who send to us their blessings and good wishes? What if we know – to our bones – that we are not alone in this space, for others have laughed and cried and grown and lived and died and risen here? What if we offer our guest friendship to those who will come after us? And what can that mean?
At the least, it means great company before and behind, around and within. What we’d call the communion of saints – but with us more mindfully relating to all there in the when and the then and the here and the now. With such thin separations of centuries or styles, generations or gadgets – these others are our family and our friends. They are part of the constant in the midst of our ever experience of change.
Wisdom makes her own rounds, today’s first reading declared. She seeks us, is resplendent and unfading, hastens to find us, graciously appears to us on our ways, meeting us with all solicitude. It is enough to be so marvelously met by this creative playful companion of God who was present at creation’s making. We are guests upon the earth. And our lives have seasons of expansion and contraction, joy and pain, fruit and fallow. But we are not alone. The God of saints and souls and sojourners – and the community of all three – join us. Let us accept and offer guest friendship as we continue in this time ‘on the ways’ where – thankfully – wisdom will ever meet us. Let us keep watch for her!