Journey to Transformation – Advent 1

Journey to Transformation – Advent 1


Forest Lake Presbyterian Church invites you to Journey with us to Transformation this Advent Season. And as a part of that journey, Artist Margaret Harris (with her helpers) have created worship banners that help us consider the season and contemplate the God we worship. Each week there will also be a devotional based on the banners for the week. Here are the banners we received on the first Sunday of Advent along with the devotional.


Please come worship with us throughout the Advent and Christmas Season!

Rev. Ellen Fowler Skidmore

Tourist V. Pilgrim- Part II

As I continue to reflect on my recent Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, I keep stumbling upon connections in the writings of Robert Pirsig, author of the classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, that are pertinent to the inquiry into tourist vs pilgrim (see earlier post introducing this subject).  He talks of making a pilgrimage himself to holy Mount Kailas the source of the Ganges in the Himalayas.  He talks about ego-climbing:

“I never reached the mountain.  After the third day I gave up, exhausted and the pilgrimage went on without me.  I had the physical strength but that wasn’t enough  I had the intellectual strength but that wasn’t enough either.  I didn’t think I had been arrogant but thought I was undertaking the pilgrimage to broaden MY experience, to gain understanding for MYSELF.  I was trying to use the mountain for my own purpose and the pilgrimage too.  I regarded myself as the fixed entity, not the pilgrimage or the mountain, and thus wasn’t ready for it………To the untrained eye ego-climbing and selfless climbing may appear identical.  

Both kinds of climbers place one foot in front of the other.  Both breathe in and out at the same rate.  Both stop when tired.  Both go forward when rested.  But what a difference!  The ego-climber is like an instrument that’s out of adjustment.  He puts his food down an instant too soon or too late.  He’s likely to miss a beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees.  He goes on when the sloppiness of his step shows he’s tired.  He rests at odd times.  He looks up the trail trying to see what’s ahead even when he knows what’s ahead because he just looked second before.  He goes too fast or too slow for the conditions and when he talks his talk is forever about somewhere else, something else.  He’s here but he’s not here.  He rejects the here, is unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the trail but when he gets there will be just as unhappy because then IT will be “here”.  What he’s looking for, what he wants, is all around him.  But he doesn’t want that because it IS all around him.  Every step’s an effort both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant.”

A tourist is an ego-climber – a pilgrim is a selfless climber.  How often I struggle with being truly “present” in every moment.  How much of my life is spent “ego-climbing” – where I am seeking to broaden my experience and get to that elusive place or destination spiritually that is never attainable simply because it exists in the present and not the future.  One of the things walking the Camino has done for me is to recognize that the things I do and actions I take to strengthen my spirituality and grow my faith should not be goals themselves; it is the journey that is important and that which will ultimately enrich my soul.





Tourist v. Pilgrim

While laid up I’ve had lots of time to reflect back to the Camino and I have been reading something very interesting that immediately connected to your earlier inquiry into what is the difference between a tourist and a pilgrim.  I’ve been reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”.  Why?  Same reason for most of what I do – just because.   So anyway there were two passages that started resonating with me.  The first had to do with your inquiry and one of the reasons I walked the Camino which was to learn to live in the present and to be present at all times.  The author talks about what it means to be on a motorcycle vs in a car:

“You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other.  In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV.  You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.  On a cycle the frame is gone.  You’re completely with it all.  You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, an the sense of presence is overwhelming.  That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it’s right there, so blurred you can’t focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience is never removed from  immediate consciousness.”

That to me is a very powerful passage.  As a tourist you don’t realize you are a passive observer an that what you see is through a frame.  Everyone has their own frame.  To be a pilgrim, you learn to be a part of the scene itself.  Life is not meant to be a series of experiences that you encounter, but rather experiences that you become.  That is not to say a tourist isn’t changed by what they experience, and maybe when that begins to happen it is part of the journey to pilgrim.  But it is much more.  To be a pilgrim is to be truly present in the scene and not just affected by the scene.

Another passage equally shook me where the author talks about how we see things.  Here, he is on a motorcycle trip with a friend who knows nothing about the maintenance of his BMW high end motorcycle and the author tries to help him adjust a loose handlebar not by using a specialized tool called a shim – but by improvising a tool using a plain old beer can.  The friend is all accepting of the help until he learns the tool in question would be a slice of plain old beer can metal and immediately balks and walks away.

“In its place grew that old feeling I’ve talked about before, a feeling that there’s something bigger involved that is apparent on the surface.  You follow these little discrepancies long enough and they sometimes open up into huge revelations.  There was just a feeling on my part that this was something a little bigger than I wanted to take on without thinking about it, and I turned instead to my usual habit of trying to extract causes and effects to see what was involved that could possibly lead to such an impasse between John’s view of that shim and my own…….What emerged in a vague form at first and then in sharper outline was the explanation that I had been seeing that shim in a ind of intellectual, rational, cerebral way in which the scientific properties of the metal were all that counted…..I was going at it in terms of underlying form.  He was going at it in terms of immediate appearance.  I was seeing what the shim meant.  He was seeing what the shim was.”

Again, another example of what I see tourist vs pilgrim encompasses…..seeing things for what they mean vs seeing them for what they are.  That one is a harder struggle to articulate without an example like that.  Things have meaning.  Objects, places, actions, even if they are only viewed in passing.   So many meanings can be overlooked because they are so minor or sometimes because they are so huge.    It is not what we are looking at, seeing, talking and thinking….the thing in question does not change….it is what is within us that shapes what we see and ultimately process.

Just a couple thoughts from a wandering pilgrim-wanna be.

Suzanne O’Dell



The Lord is Risen!

The Lord is Risen, Indeed!

Whenever we repeat those words we become a part of a endless sea of the faithful who have proclaimed that Jesus Christ, though crucified, dead and buried, was raised from the dead, never to die again, and that his resurrection means that it is now possible for us to escape both Sin and death.

But, this Easter as I contemplate the mystery of the resurrection and this age-old refrain, I am struck by the fact that this affirmation is shouted in the face of grief, death and evil to those who saw Jesus die, who buried him and who KNEW that evil had triumphed.

This is not a claim reserved for those times when we have had a shower, breakfast, an extra cup of coffee, a few chocolate Easter bunnies and life is good.  This faith claim is for when we think that death, evil and terror have won.  This claim is how we say to ourselves and to the world:

  • Death is not the final word
  • Evil will not finally win
  • Grief will come to an end.

Because the God we worship is life, light and love.  That is what will last.

As we claim resurrection this Easter morning, I am struck by how we need to turn and shout this hopeful faith claim to the families of those who were killed by terrorist bombs in Brussels, Belgium.  We need to turn and shout this faith claim to those who are still in the grip of death, grief and evil;  to those who keep a death vigil for a loved one; to those who must care for someone who is present in body but absent in mind; to those who have no secure home and no secure food; to those who struggle with mental illness, abuse, chronic pain, or addiction.  Indeed, this faith claim is to be shouted even to those who plot to murder unsuspecting innocents and rain down terror on the world.  They need to know!

The Lord is Risen!

The Lord is Risen, Indeed!

For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”    2 Corinthians 4:6

The Lord is Risen!

 The Lord is Risen, Indeed!

Bring it on!

A Poem for Palm Sunday


As I pondered throughout the week about what to post for this Palm Sunday, I found myself re-reading a devotional published by Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. In particular, I found one of my mentor’s writings to be  especially thought provoking. Each time I read his words, I found something new to question. Something new to ponder. Something new to pray. So instead of trying to consolidate and regurgitate his words I decided just to share them with you.

Below is first a poem, and then a meditation by the Rev. Dr. Paul Hooker.

Grace and Peace to you as we begin this Holiest of weeks.

— Michael East


“If these were silent, the stones would shout out.” – Luke 19:40

You who enter the city in the midst of things, come to find a place to love and die, though we are busy keeping feasts, keeping kosher keeping our heads down, keeping a low profile ducked behind stone walls of practiced custom where no hope or change or grace can reach us.

You who come to upset our assumptions take away the illusion that we are the center of things that we can cushion the stumbling stones in our paths with pretentious fronds and conceited cloaks though we cry Save us, Save us without acknowledging that we need saving.

You who come to tear down temples overturn the tables of our sacred things scatter the coinage of our sacerdotal commerce release the doves we sacrifice to self deception though we apprehend you without understanding and install you in the harsher sanctuary of our stony hill.

You who dwell in the midst of things: for a moment, for an instant, for a heartbeat slow the processional of things still the noise of things until we hear the one thing whispered in the silence of the stones.


This year, when the calendar summons us comparatively early to this central week in the liturgical year, Christ comes very much “in the midst of things”—sandwiched in between the awards shows and the athletic spectacles, the political posturing and income tax preparation. But then, when does he not so come? Is it ever the case that we stand at the roadside ready to receive him and all that his coming means? Is it ever the case that our frenzied hosannas are set aside for a moment, while we contemplate what it might mean to be saved? Is it not rather always the case that we spread our cloaks in a vain effort to cover the potholes in our pathways, that we wave our palm fronds in hopes of hiding our failures?

In Luke’s Palm Sunday narrative, Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ command to silence his disciples by saying that, “If these were silent, the stones would shout out.” I admit to a fascination with the question, What would they say? I cannot help wondering whether the din of our daily activity does not drown out a witness from the foundations of the earth, from the rocks in the basement of time. Do not those stones bear the very fingerprint of God? Do they not have a story to tell? What would we hear if we were still long enough to listen?

– – Rev. Dr. Paul Hooker, Associate Dean for Ministerial Formation and Advanced Studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary

In need of God’s love, mercy, and grace!

Every day, in thousands of churches across America and around the world, groups of people gather to support each other as together they recover from alcohol dependence, drug addiction, or any number of compulsive behaviors. Their lives had become out of control but, until they found these “12 Step” groups, they had been unable to quit, usually despite increasingly negative consequences. Now, however, these same people are leading meaningful, productive lives. They are able to do this because, having experienced the “gift of desperation,” they now live one day at a time in real dependence upon the grace and power of God.

In reflecting today on what this season of Lent (along with Holy Week and Easter) means to me, l truly believe that the reason these “12 Steppers” have found such a vital connection to God is that, even though they don’t usually describe it in such terms, they have experienced on a very real and personal level the reality of what this season is about.

We began our observance of Lent on Ash Wednesday when Ellen or Michael marked our foreheads with ashes in the sign of the cross and reminded us that we “are dust and to dust we shall return.” For me personally, to hear and accept this truth is the equivalent of the first step admission of powerless and need for help. It is a reminder that I am mortal, vulnerable, in need of grace, because I am powerless over my selfish, sinful human nature and have turned away from God, alienated myself from the experience of the unconditional Love that is God.

I believe that what allows “12 Steppers” to maintain their dependence on God is that they “lead with their weakness.” When they introduce themselves in the group meetings, they acknowledge their condition – “My name is Joe and I am an alcoholic” (or whatever it is that brought them there).

I also believe that many of us frequently miss out on this kind of sweet dependence and fellowship because we fail to remember we “are dust” and in need of grace. I know that I often become complacent, even self-righteous, and then, even though I believe in God, I don’t trust or rely on God’s grace. I need to begin each day with the acknowledgement that “My name is Paul and I am a sinner” in desperate need of God’s love, mercy, and grace!

— Paul Rogers


Early one spring morning a couple of years ago, I was walking across campus to a meeting. As is common at class change time, I can over hear conversations as students and faculty make their ways from class to class along the busy campus walkways. That particular morning I overheard one student say to another, “I was going to give up beer for Lent, but then realized that St. Patrick’s Day is in the middle of Lent.” I had to chuckle. He obviously did not choose beer to give up for Lent. He was indeed a realist thinking ahead, but not a Christian fully embracing the concept of “giving up for Lent” – at least not as I understood. It. Overhearing that comment made me think about why my own “giving up” in the past had not been very meaningful. Perhaps it was my choices. I like chocolate, but it is not central to my diet, so giving it up was no big deal. Easy really. I love diet cokes, but I love a good glass of cold water as well, so giving up diet coke was not a challenge for me. I never felt like I was really sacrificing anything. I thought that perhaps if I approached the preparation for Easter with a Lenten discipline in a more positive fashion, I would be more inclined to make meaning of my efforts.

That same spring I came across a Lenten Reflection from the Association of Presbytery Executives that has been much more meaningful to me. I prefer to think of Lenten disciplines as things I can do, not just things I won’t do. I share it here:

Fast from judging others; feast on the presence of God within each person.
Fast from focusing on differences; feast on the unity of all life.
Fast from apparent darkness and gloom; feast on the reality of light and enthusiasm.
Fast from thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives; feast on affirmatives.
Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.
Fast from facts that depress; feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from shadows of sorrow; feast on the brilliance of Resurrection!

I keep this printed reflection in a handy place each Lenten season and try to read it every day. It helps me be much more intentional about what I try to give up, AND what I try to take on.

Stuart Hunter