Believers are pilgrims journeying to heaven. The image of a believer navigating through this world on the way to the Celestial City was immortalised in the famous English allegory – Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’ First published in 1678 the book remains readable and evocative.
During last year’s lockdown my church hosted an online reading group to study Pilgrim’s Progress. Discussing its Biblical imagery, I was struck afresh how fundamental to healthy Christian experience, is the sense of being a pilgrim. We are on a journey towards heaven, but too easily forget and put down roots in this world. We prefer the comfortable armchair to the challenging cross. Content in our little part of the world, we lose the feeling of journeying towards our real home — heaven.
This regular column recognises that to ‘progress’ as pilgrims, we must ‘process.’ That is, we must think about the world around us and navigate its terrain with wisdom. Pilgrims process the times. We do so together, in the power of the Spirit, with renewed minds, regenerate hearts, and with scripture as our map. As pilgrims who process the world facing us today, we need to have our emotions and attitudes honed into what God would have us experience. I have found time in the Psalms invaluable for this. Many of us regularly read through the Psalms using the Book of Common Prayer schedule – it races through all 150 Psalms in one month. It requires reading several each morning and evening. If you want to give your emotions an intense workout to develop the outlook necessary for progress as a pilgrim – try the BCP Psalter for a month. Reading through the Psalms in an intensive manner over one month, transposes daily life to a different plane. We see through the eyes of Christ. Love for God is fanned into flame. Suffering, depression and injustice are acknowledged. Sin is mourned. Singing with God’s people is treasured. God is praised as worthy of honour.
The practice of singing Psalms in church services is thankfully coming back into wider practice. Not only Cranmer, but Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin would be bemused at how any church could expect to maintain a heavenward pilgrimage without regular shared inhabiting of Psalms. There are many musical styles and tools that can be used. Why not try some? Search any online music store and you will find Psalms set to everything from Gregorian Chant to Country and Western. We pilgrims have much to process if we are to progress – the times are rapidly shifting and demand evaluation. Let the Psalms give you heart for the journey.
Revd Dr. Peter Sanlon is rector of Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells: www.emmanuelanglican.uk