A holy pilgrimage

The barn at Elseth Mountain. Photo credit goes to Paul Elseth.

“I know there is one angle of the road down the pass where the rock leans out a little, and on windy nights I seem to hear it clashing overhead with other rocks– yes, city against city and citadel against citadel, far up into the night. It was on such an evening that the strange man struggled up the pass. Broadly speaking, only strange men did struggle up the pass. But I had never seen one like this one before…

“He sat down on the rough bench outside my inn and drank some wine from the vineyards below, sighing with ecstasy over it like one who had travelled long among alien, cruel things and found at last
something that he knew.

…`I am a man who left his own house because he could no longer bear to be away from it,’ [he said.]

“`It certainly sounds paradoxical,’ I said.

“`I heard my wife and children talking and saw them moving about the room,’ he continued, `and all the time I knew they were walking and talking in another house thousands of miles away, under the light of different skies, and beyond the series of the seas.  I loved them with a devouring love, because they seemed not only distant but unattainable. Never did human creatures seem so dear and so desirable: but I seemed like a cold ghost; therefore I cast off their dust from my feet for a testimony.  Nay, I did more. I spurned the world under my feet so that it swung full circle like a treadmill.’

“`Do you really mean,’ I cried, `that you have come right round the world? Your speech is English, yet you are coming from the west.’

“`My pilgrimage is not yet accomplished,’ he replied sadly. `I have become a pilgrim to cure myself of being an exile.’

“Something in the word `pilgrim’ awoke down in the roots of my ruinous experience memories of what my fathers had felt about the world, and of something from whence I came.  “`My grandmother,’ I said in a low tone, `would have said that we were all in exile, and that no earthly house could cure the holy home-sickness that forbids us rest.’ …

“Then he said, `I think your grandmother was right,’ and stood up leaning on his grassy pole.  `I think that must be the reason,’ he said–`the secret of this life of man, so ecstatic and so unappeased. But I think there is more to be said.  I think God has given us the love of special places, of a hearth and of a native land, for a good reason.’

“`I dare say,’ I said.  `What reason?’

“`Because otherwise,’ he said, pointing his pole out at the sky and the abyss, `we might worship that.’

“`What do you mean?’  I demanded.

“`Eternity,’ he said in his harsh voice, `the largest of the idols– the mightiest of the rivals of God.’

“`You mean pantheism and infinity and all that,’ I suggested.

“`I mean,’ he said with increasing vehemence, `that if there be a house for me in heaven it will either have a green lamp-post and a hedge, or something quite as positive and personal as a green lamp-post and a hedge.  I mean that God bade me love one spot and serve it, and do all things however wild in praise of it, so that this one spot might be a witness against all the infinities and the sophistries, that Paradise is somewhere and not anywhere, is something and not anything. And I would not be so very much surprised if the house in heaven had a real green lamp-post after all.’
— From Manalive, by G.K. Chesterton.

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About Michal Conger

I’m a reporter and digital editor, a cooking and whole foods fanatic, a runner, a music lover, an Anthropologie devotee. I'm an avid reader of G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and anti-modernist novels. Lately you’ll find me freelancing about education policy and local economic issues to support my horseback riding habit. I am married to my best friend. And above all, I am committed to bearing the testimony of the Lord Jesus, giving an answer for the hope that is in me.
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