The Rev. Leigh Spruill is the Rector at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Nashville and has just returned from a 14-week sabbatical, part of which he spent biking from the southwest corner of England to the northwest corner of Scotland. The route is from Land’s End to John o’ Groats (LEJOG) and is 874 miles long.
Leigh spoke of the ride during his sermon yesterday, particularly of the joy and camaraderie that he shared with the other 23 riders. Twenty-one were Brits, with one from Canada, one from Australia and Leigh the only American. They swapped information at the end of their first day and in response to “what do you do for a living?” Leigh indicated that he is an Episcopal priest. Unlike a typical response here in Nashville, no one in the group chose to share where they went to church or their religious persuasion.
Leigh was compelled to pray in the evenings, asking if there was more that he should be doing. Should he talk about his faith? Should he question others about theirs? We live with the tension of being called into an exclusive group, but also to be utterly inclusive.
As the days wore on, the group of 24 continued to share the pains of long-distance cycling but also the bonding that comes with all-day rides and nighttime storytelling in local pubs.
Leigh was reminded of an essay by Annie Dillard, “On a Hill Far Away.” Annie tells a story of striking out for a walk on a farm road and encountering a boy, about eight, his dogs, and a newborn horse. As Annie asked about the animals, the boy gave polite replies as to their names and ages and then blurted out, “Do you know the Lord as your personal savior?”
Annie replied, “Not only that, I know your mother.”
It was a year before that Annie had approached the farm from the opposite direction and asked a woman if it was okay to walk her property. After giving permission with the promise of there not being any “kids roughhousing”, the woman had asked Annie the same question, “Do you know the Lord as your personal savior?” Annie surmised that she was compelled to ask everyone she met the same question, and once that was over, the woman could relax and enjoy the conversation. The woman had trained her son well, as he, too, led with the same question before he could relax in his new-found friend.
Leigh asked, “Why would I tell this story of Annie Dillard?” It was important for me to know that I was there not to gain success in my chosen vocation, but instead I was there to suffer the hills with my new friends and to just have fun with them. God will act when He wants, where He wants and in the manner that He wants. I needed to quit thinking that if anything was going to convict these people in faith that it was my responsibility to make it happen.
Instead of worrying about what words we have to say, we are called to live our lives with others, going on our journey together and living our life as a witness to Christ. Just like yeast, our lives will have a disproportionate effect on the world around us; the hope for glory will be because of Christ in us.
(click below for MP3 file)