Sojourners

Every day is a god, each day is a god, and holiness holds forth in time.
I worship each god, I praise each day splintered down,
splintered down and wrapped in time like a husk,
a husk of many colors spreading,
at dawn fast over the mountains split.

These are the first two sentences of Annie Dillard’s wondrous book about faith and time called Holy the Firm. She writes the lines as prose, but to me they resonate as poetry. I have been thinking much about time lately, how we attempt to understand time, the passage of time, and our relationship with time.

Dillard writes later on, in cadences that seem almost biblical to me, that “we are sown into time like so much corn . . . . we are tossed broadcast into time like so much grass” (39 & 40). “I seem to be on a road,” she also writes, “We are created, created, sojourners in a land we did not make” (63).

What a fantastic word that is: sojourners. The term derives from an Old French verb, sejorner (“to stay or dwell for a time”), which in turn is related to the Old French noun, jornal (a day or a certain period of time).  It will not surprise you to know we also get our words “journey” (which originally indicated the amount of work or travel one could accomplish in a single day) and “journal” (something that is kept daily) from this same etymological source.

A sojourn, then, is a visit, a temporary stay (that word “temporary” itself derives from a Latin root for time). Sojourners are wayfaring strangers, footsore on a path that by definition encompasses both movement and time, on a road that meanders often we know not where, but at the end of which lies all our hope and faith. “God is home,” writes Meister Eckhart, “we are in the far country.”

In his poem Lament, Rainer Maria Rilke writes:

Whom will you cry to, heart? More and more lonely,
your path struggles on through incomprehensible
mankind. All the more futile perhaps
for keeping its own direction,
keeping on toward the future,
toward what has been lost.

I love the way this verse captures the loneliness and disorientation we all surely must share as we pass among others (also fallen and confused) we often cannot understand. I am also intrigued by the yearning suggested in the final lines. The heart struggles on its path through life, yet it is driven toward an almost undefinable destination: through time, back to that which it has lost. Back to where it truly belongs.

Nothing new here in this understanding of Christian life as a temporary stay in time; no more, perhaps, than distant echoes of straight and narrow paths. Still, as we pass through Holy Week and Pentecost, on to that vast period of the liturgical calendar some call Ordinary Time, I am taken aback to remember that we are destined, if not called, to wander.  Do not even take a bag for your journey, Jesus instructs the disciples, and if you are not welcomed, shake the dust off your sandals as you depart. I may be a pilgrim, set down in a far and foreign land, but (as Tolkien memorably put it) not all those who wander are lost. So I walk on, sharing this belief with Annie Dillard, that each risen day is a gift, a god, and holiness does and will hold forth in time.

I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger, a-travelin’ through this world of woe,
But there’s no sickness, toil, nor danger in that bright world to which I go.
I’m going there to see my Father; I’m going there no more to roam.
I’m just a-goin’ over Jordan. I’m just a-goin’ over home.

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