“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
Please don’t stop reading now! I know the language is archaic and it has a distinctly religious ring to it. I promise, I am not going to bore you to tears with a sleep-inducing sermonette.
This line is the answer to the first question of the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith first written in 1646. It was adopted as an official confession of the Presbyterian Church (USA) of which I am an ordained member. (Hang in there!)
In 1987 I entered a contest to memorize the catechism. There were three prizes: $1500, $1200, and $900. We were also assured that in the event of a tie for first prize each winning contestant would receive the full $1500. That was all I needed to hear. I went for it.
I have fond memories of walking around the town of San Anselmo, California carrying my eight month old son in a snuggly on my back while I went through the 107 index cards that had the 107 questions and answers to the catechism. It paid off. I typed it back perfectly for the judges and was awarded the money I needed to finish that semester.
Now, over 25 years later I only remember this very first question and answer to the catechism. Both the money and my memory of it are long gone. But, this one line has been working on me, even agitating me, for the last few years.
Three years ago, I took a very personal pilgrimage cycling around the Western US, crossing eight states, five mountain ranges, the Nevada desert and over 4,000 miles (watch for the late fall release of my book Dying to Live: A Preacher’s Pilgrimage to Reclaim his Soul.). Throughout the ten week journey I felt like I was pushing through something and trying to break through some unknown, but palpable barrier. One day in Idaho especially reflected this. I rode by a number of hot springs determined that I was going to reach my destination 80 miles out. I reached my destination, but regretted missing the hot springs.
One of my hosts on the trip had asked me, referring back to the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, “What are you running late for?” I never was able to answer that question, but I did know that the first answer to the Shorter Catechism kept buzzing around my mind like an annoying mosquito in my ears.
Friends and family will tell you that I know how to work hard. They will also tell you that I am a neophyte when it comes to purely enjoying myself and life. Translated into the Shorter Catechism, “I know how to glorify God; I have not yet allowed myself to simply enjoy God.”
Which brings me to last Sunday. I am training for my upcoming pilgrimage from Rome to Konya, Turkey, a distance of approximately 3,000 kilometers. I have not put the miles in this time to be fully prepared for the daily treks of fifty plus miles with fifty pounds of gear on my bike. From a physical standpoint I am really behind schedule.
But, I am not worried. There is a curious thing taking place. On Sunday I felt like I was training my enjoyment muscles as much as I was firming up my calves, quads, hams and butt. I decided that enjoying the ride was probably better training for this ride into mysticism than the logging of the actual miles, the average speed, and the vertical feet I had climbed. This is not easy for me. I raced bicycles competitively in my twenties, formed and coached a college team, and placed second in my division in a mountain bike race just a year ago. As I said, I know how to work hard!
Sunday, I felt like I was training for a different sort of pilgrimage experience. This time the goal is not to complete the pilgrimage on schedule (as if there were one). It is not to prove that I can climb mountains or cross deserts. It is not to find the Holy Grail somewhere along the way or at the conclusion of my journey. This time it is to enjoy the journey, follow the pace that my soul desires, and return in six weeks or eight weeks or whenever I damn well feel like it.
“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever,” instructs the Shorter Catechism of my faith. This time I won’t be skipping the hot springs. There will be Genoa salamis and Italian pastas to enjoy. There will be Greek beaches and ancient ruins that will call for me to linger and ponder. There will be the famously hospitable people of Turkey with whom to share tea, dinner and broken conversation. Maybe even there will be God, if I can slow down long enough to enjoy Her!