Chapter 4: Packing Matters

This is the continued story from my journal of the walk from D.C. to Pittsburgh, learning the gospel of John by heart.  Here I am still in the preparation phase.  It is April, 2008.

Two days ago, I said good-bye to the congregation and my responsibilities for three months, and now I am eager to begin my new work, learning John.  The gospel starts out with several paragraphs that biblical scholars call the “prologue,” or literally, “words-before.”  I call it poetry, although that’s not technically accurate either.  Anyway, this prologue poem is packed with individual words that are heavy with significance.  If I were to list some of these weighty words, it would include the following: beginning, word, God, life, light, darkness, witness, testify, believe, coming, world, know, receive, children of God, born, flesh, glory, father, only son, grace, truth, law. These words each have their own poetic color. They are the fringe at the beginning edge of John’s  tapestry,  inviting my eyes on one end to follow each strand of color as it is woven into patterns throughout the gospel.  I know what’s going to happen.  These threads will emerge out into the fringe on the other side of the gospel and the other end of my walk, only for me to find that on their way they wrapped themselves into me and me into them.   They have already begun this entangling enterprise, since the prologue has been well-packed into my memory for several months.    Out of my brain’s storage unit, the weighty words keep popping up here and there: on walks, in songs, in a book, inviting my attention.

But practical packing matters are needing my attention too. With the walk only a few days from starting, I have spread out before me on the floor all the items I want to carry in my backpack while hiking.  I’ve decided that making a list of what I need to pack each day on the walk is a good precaution.  I wouldn’t want to forget anything, like discovering three miles down the trail that I forgot to pack water, for example.  Surprised that there is so much on the floor waiting to fit in the pack, here is the current list: several bottles of water, a lunch bag (which each day will carry half a peanut butter sandwich, an apple, a couple of snack bars, nuts, carrots, one hard boiled egg for Chester), hot dog bits for when I need to get Chester’s attention and encourage his obedience, a small metal dish for him to drink water, an extra leash to tie him to a post or tree when I need to have my hands free or walk into a restroom, a whistle in case he gets loose and I have to call him back, plastic bags for dog clean-up and trash, my rain coat and rain pants, Chester’s rain coat, a cell phone, a little money, a trail map, a camera and telephoto lens, an extra camera battery, hiking shoe laces, a small flashlight for tunnels, and three little, soft-bound,  plastic albums: one containing the portion of John I am learning, the second, my home-made prayer book with things and people I want to remember to pray for, and the third, a collection of hymn-texts I want to sing and learn.  I am taking a pen, but I decide that my beautiful, hard-bound journal with its smooth, rich pages, given to me by the church staff, should stay at the camping trailer.  It is heavy, and as my list and the pile on the floor grows, the weight of the pack is becoming an issue; so I take instead a few pieces of paper to jot things down during the walk and later copy into the journal.  Depending on the weather, I may be wearing or carrying in the backpack an extra fleece pullover and a jacket.   I have not even named the first-aid stuff yet: there are band-aids, blister band-aids, a pocket-knife, antibiotic ointment, fresh wipes, insect spray,  and sunscreen.  I think that is all.  Oh, yes, a mostly used roll of toilet paper.

Pilgrims are supposed to walk lightly. My backpack, bursting with preparedness, feels on first heft  like its weight totally contradicts this maxim.  Yet there is not a thing I can wisely do without, except possibly the rain gear on days when the weather forecast is absolutely certain of sun.  I refuse to walk without the camera.  My back will just have to grow stronger.

Later in the morning I take a break from packing and walk with Chester down Gilbert Road, about three miles.  Along the side of the road I see an interesting tangle of thick, bare vines.  It makes me think of how John’s gospel weaves the weighty words in and out.  There is not one of those prologue words that I can wisely ignore while walking through John’s many chapters.  In addition,  I will need to leave room for other substantial words that crop up later, like bread and vine and shepherd.  My pilgrim memory will just have to grow stronger too.

As I continue walking and mentally going through lists of packing for food, campfires, bedding and cleaning supplies,  I am reminded of a recently learned verse from John 8 where Jesus tells the religious leaders: “There is no place in you for my word.”   I smile, knowing the current truth to that statement.  There is no place to put some of the things I want to take in the camping trailer.  I will have to be selective.  I took movies and books over on my last trip loading the camper.  Its space is getting crowded.  Now I’m realizing that, if I take too much to do, I won’t have the interior space to do what I am called to do: walk contemplatively, listen, be open, and learn John with my heart.  It is, in fact, because a pastor’s life is so full of busyness, listening to everyone, but not much listening to God,  that I have been granted time away in the first place.  Even if my backpack is down to only the essentials, too much in the camper will crowd out space in my evening listening hours too. Why is it pastors are afraid to go anywhere without an array of books?  “There is no place in you for my word.”  Maybe I should invite God to walk through the camping trailer with me and get rid of a few of the extra things I have packed.  At least a lighter trailer will save on gasoline.
    This pilgrim prays:

    God, I am almost packed and as ready as I can be to walk. 
    There is a stir of expectancy in me.
    I think I see the fringes of what might lie ahead,
        glimpse where threads of John’s words may be leading. 
    But only you can unpack the words into what
        you want me to hear, and see and know.
    Only you can weave its colors into some
        kind of tapestry that catches up strands of my life. 
    I will try to be attentive. 
    I will try to be open. 
    I will try to give you the space you need.
    But I cannot do any of these things apart
        from your grace upon grace,
        unclutching my laden arms,
        sweeping out my clutter,
        weaving your words into me, 
        coloring the walk with patterns of you from the very beginning.

To be continued….