Knowing when to stay, knowing when to leave is one of the most challenging invitations for discernment that we will ever encounter and no this is not about the politics shenanigans surrounding the dreaded ‘b’ word. When is it time to move on, to shake the dust from your feet and to continue on the journey?
There are times, for staying leaning against the resistance that we meet; times when God calls us to engage difficulties and struggles that will shape and form us and those we meet in a way that ease and comfort never can. There is ground that becomes holy only when we remain long enough to see the blessings that can emerge from struggle, that shimmers through only after the dust the struggle has kicked up finally begins to settle. And then there are times for leaving; times when—as Jesus counsels his disciples—the holy thing to do is to shake the dust from our feet and leave behind a place that is no longer meant for us. But this is not just for those of us whose calling it is to move from place to place. It is for all of us. For we will from time to time all need to move on, spiritually, politically, emotionally, physically; knowing when the time is right is an important task of self knowledge and discernment. As we journey through Lent towards Easter we can easily get stuck in the wilderness, hopefully that is only metaphorically speaking but knowing the terrain in Snowdonia – you never know. We can get stuck in the spiritual wilderness of Lent -or I suspect comfortable might be a more appropriate word, comfortable, unable, unwilling perhaps to move on in the journey. And in Lent, the journey towards Easter, unwilling perhaps to accept the transformation that might come if we were to move on. The transformation Easter brings means things are never the same on the other side. And because we celebrate Easter every year, that means a continual getting up and moving on – keeping ourselves moving on physically, emotionally, politically, spiritually. The film ‘The Way’ is about walking on in pilgrimage but it’s also about life and death, about staying and leaving. Knowing when to remain and when to shake the dust off and move on. Tom, the main character did not set out to walk the Camino, but he found himself walking the way after his son died on the first day of his own pilgrimage. Tom becomes an unlikely, unusual and at times unwilling pilgrim. We’ll meet the characters as they walk between a variety of places receiving hospitality in many of the Refugios along the Camino St. Iago de Compostella. But I want to reflect on one in particular – one where the temptation would have been to shake off the dust rather too soon and make for the road before time. Our fellow travellers have arrived at Burgos a town where like may others gypsies live alongside the rest of the population and are often mistrusted. They are relaxing after a long day’s walk, reunited with friends from earlier on the journey. Tom’s pack which contains the box of his Son’s ashes is stolen by a gypsy boy. Despite chasing him through the town they do not find him or the pack. Tom is unwilling to leave the ashes of his Son behind. As they return to the Refugio Tom is ready to pack up, get a flight home and to give up on the whole journey. He is about to wipe the dust of this crazy expedition off his feet. He began it on a whim, why not end it abruptly too. However, the gipsy boy’s father walks into the the bar with Tom’s pack untouched, and extends an invitation to all the travellers to join them for an evening meal and entertainment as an apology. Tom accepts and gets more than an evening’s food and entertainment. Ishmael speaks to him about his son and suggests he walk on, beyond Compostella to place his son’s remains in the sea. Not for religious reasons, but for him and for his Son.
To truly shake the dust off his feet – this can come to it’s proper end, then he can move on. Shaking the dust off our feet is not about condemnation of another for we notice that Luke tells us that the The Kingdom of God is near to all, both those who welcome the disciples word and those who do not. Shaking off the dust is about knowing when it is right to move on, for us, not to let the past dictate our future encounters and journey, to allow, when they come, opportunities that times like Lent and Easter bring to allow us to move on physically, emotionally, spiritually. Jesus tells us to travel with no purse or bag or sandles and even to shake the dust from our feet lest it be a burden to us as we journey on. For as Tom and his companions found out in The Way, much as we might want to be prepared ourselves, the Journey is always about letting go, about the hospitality of others, and ultimately the hospitality of God.