Walking and Sleeping through Church History

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The one thing better than 8½ hours of sleep while hiking is 9 hours of sleep. I discovered this by awaking non-groggy, refreshed, and energetic for today’s walk. In fact it finally came home to me that I have exactly two jobs during these 70 days: walking and sleeping. Eating usually happens during walking so it doesn’t get a separate category, and everything else is somehow subordinate to these two. And for that matter sleeping is chiefly so I can keep walking. This probably sounds far from profound, but the fact is that, suddenly, the extreme simplicity and clarity of purpose in this pilgrimage opened up for me. My job is only to reconnect Erfurt and Rome with my feet, and everything else is incidental. I’m seeing again the spiritual purpose of pilgrimage, and why it usually needs to take so much time. Three weeks can go by before you realize how simple and straightforward is the task before you.

So, walk we did. A few blusters of rain, a few bursts of sun, mostly clouds and wind but not too chilly. We discovered that the bike path cut almost 10 km off the day’s hike so at some sacrifice of interesting scenery we went for that option instead, mostly along a train line. At the impressive distance of 10 km away we caught our first glimpse of the Ulm Münster, which has the tallest steeple in the world (just edging out that of our own Strasbourg). But we were more eager to see Zeke and Andrew’s parents again for an earlier-than-usual rest day this week. After a few good hours with them we left till tomorrow morning to take a bus out of town to the home of Carola and Andreas Hoffman-Richter, our hosts for the next two days. We enjoyed a good dinner with them, heard about their 8 years working in Japan, and learned some of the local history—more about it tomorrow.

In anticipation of that, I should note how greatly it has been impressed upon us in this pilgrimage that the present-day life of the church is always embedded in the history of the church. You learn the faith in layer upon layer of previous generations’ attempts, successes, and failures in learning the faith themselves. There is certainly no possibility of extracting yourself from it, even if you live in a less recently Christian locale—it only means that the history is less visible, but certainly not absent.

It seems to me that ecumenism often seems threatening, and actually is at its worst, when it suggests that progress lies in people forsaking or forgetting their histories. We can’t separate ourselves from the historical means by which we came to know the gospel ourselves and shouldn’t be asked to do so. But at its best, ecumenism asks us to have an honest and sober view of our own histories. Ideological histories are an age-old temptation in the church (and, well, everywhere else). History always gets written to serve a purpose. We can’t have a perfect God’s-eye view of church history, but we can look at it in the spirit of the 8th Commandment which instructs us not to bear false witness, either by saying that something was good when it was actually bad (usually in our own history) or by saying that something was bad when it was actually good (usually in someone else’s history). This kind of honest historical retelling probably happens best within a community as part of its ongoing testing of the spirits, and probably will happen only in response to encounters with those outside the community. I suspect that all other ecumenical efforts at reconcilation are premature until we have been able to tell histories that we all equally acknowledge as truthful and accurate.

4 thoughts on “Walking and Sleeping through Church History

  1. Dear Andrew and Sarah, Your rest day sounds wonderful — for a day leaving the walk-sleep-walk-sleep routine. It is not like your experience but I have found myself drawn back into being a fan of the Phillies. After 23 days they have a day of rest — no game. So, I too will have to find a new routine that does not include watching the last few innings of a baseball game. God be with you as you ‘sabbath’ on Friday — a wonderful way to celebrate a new year! Steve Godsall-Myers

  2. I grew up in northwestern Ohio, USA. My family history includes one of the first Lutheran families in north central Ohio. That family built the second log cabin in the county. I have heard stories about how they decided to settle there because it reminded them of home in Germany.

    Your photos show fields and scenery that could be right out of Ohio. We have great areas of flat land and areas of rolling hills and forests.

    I also have an interest in architecture so your photos of churches and vernacular architecture are most interesting.

    Your comment about the simplicity of walking reminded me of Henry David Thoreau’s saying, “Our lives are frittered away by detail… simplicity… simplicity…”

    Maybe that is what is needed in our relationships with others of different denominations – Simplicity!

  3. The last sentence of today’s entry seems millenial (or eschatological, if you prefer)…only then will be “know as we are known” and have that kind of agreement on history I would think.

    Reading your thoughts this morning I also recalled Eberhard Bethge’s comment on the heritage of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “The rich world of his ancestors set the standards for DB’s own life. It gave him a certainty of judgment and manner that cannot be acquired in a single generation…but in the deeply rooted obligation to be guardians of a great historical heritage and intellectual tradition.”

    Again, thanks for the opportunity to travel and think with you on this journey.

  4. Thanks, Steve–and baseball is indeed like life! Good to hear from you and hope you’ve settled into a happy place stateside.

    Paul, the faith is all about living the eternal in the present and so it’s an act of faith to try! I’m with you that the richness of long intellectual and spiritual traditions can’t be thrown away. It’s when they accumulate sicknesses or dishonesties that they need pruning.

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