Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Strangers and Pilgrims

Have you ever done the house-hunt thing? Either for real or Muriel’s-Wedding-dress-style (i.e. looking with no intention of buying)? It’s a great way of breeding discontentment… Spending weekend after weekend looking at what I don’t have but what I really want or could want or might want.  Walking into any home – even a friend’s home – becomes an evaluation exercise: what do they have that I want?

What I really liked about the final few chapters of ‘Anne Bradstreet: Pilgrim & Poet’, was the reminder to lift my eyes from the material to the eternal. We’ve already seen how Anne views herself as a pilgrim, passing through, in this life. This perception only strengthens as she gets older. She writes: ‘A Christian is sailing through this world unto his heavenly country and here he has many conveniences and comforts, but he must beware of desiring to make this the place of his abode…we must, therefore, be here as strangers and pilgrims, that we may plainly declare that we seek a city above…’ This talk of living here but not making it our home echoes Paul’s encouragement that ‘those who buy do so as though they did not possess and those who use the world as though they did not make full use of it. For this world in its current form is passing away’ (1 Cor 7:30-31).  It’s a real challenge though – how do you spend (God-willing) – 80 or so years somewhere, but never truly settle down? How can we nurture the healthy restlessness of a pilgrim? Perhaps the key is how the gospel frees us to hold earthly things lightly, but see the times clearly…

But what gave Anne this clear-sight for the next life? Perhaps it was seeing her granddaughters pass away so tragically and so young. Perhaps it was watching her home burn to the ground in the night. Perhaps it was watching Massachusetts shift to a new generation – less concerned with puritan devotion and more with material accumulation. Whatever it was, it seems that Anne focused her attention even more squarely on the hereafter.

After watching her home go up in smoke she manages to write: It was his own, it was not mine, far be it that I should repine. God is the ultimate possessor. It was her’s merely on loan. She has another more sturdy home waiting:
Thou hast a house on high erect,
Framed by that mighty Architect
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent though this be fled.

From the age of 50 Anne begins explicitly expecting, and preparing for, her death. Granted the life expectancy figures were much lower back then but still, it’s challenging. She doesn’t prepare in a material way – by being preoccupied with who will get what and how, but in a spiritual way – with a  renewed devotion to Christ. At age 52 she writes an account of her life to be read by her children when she’s gone, Cook includes it as the appendix. It’s not so much a record of her achievements – she doesn’t mention her published work at all! – but a crystallization of the events and wisdom which she wants to pass on. It’s well worth a read.

After having no idea about who Anne Bradstreet was, I feel like I’ve learnt a lot from her. Imagining her in those woods, isolated and yet so aware God’s closeness in Christ. An unlikely hero in the building of America, she was much more concerned with storing treasures in another land. Thank God that the same fuel she had to live that life, fuels the walk of every Christian – the encouragement of the gospel, the fellowship of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.

As we look forward to our ultimate home, may we all be able to pray with Anne:

Lord, make me ready for that day,

Then come, dear Bridegroom, come away. 

About this month's contributor, Annabel Nixey
I'm a Sydney-bred, Canberra-newbie who's still getting used to the idea of four distinct seasons (yes, in winter it is chilly!). My favourite genres are… for movies - period dramas, for books - biographies and for coffee - tea. American history was my least favourite subject at uni but this month's book (set amongst the puritan pilgrims to the new world) has helped flip that impression.

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