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The Symbols Of Our Pilgrimage


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What do you think of when you see the word pilgrimage? What images come to mind? Dictionaries inform us that a pilgrimage is basically a journey, or more commonly, a journey to a specific place. I've always felt that there was a certain poverty in the conventional view that a pilgrimage represents only a physical journey with a definable beginning and end, like a trip to the Holy Land for the Christian or Jew. When I think of pilgrimage, other, more abstract images come to mind.

Our intellectual pilgrimage would be one example of what I'm talking about. It begins with intense learning in our earliest years, carries on through our formal education, and, hopefully, continues in some form or another throughout the rest of our lives. Social and emotional pilgrimages are other examples of the many open-ended 'journeys' that make up our lives. Indeed, physical life itself is a pilgrimage: "Pharaoh asked [Jacob], 'How old are you?' Jacob said to Pharaoh, 'The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty'" (Genesis 47.8-9, NIV throughout unless otherwise noted).

Perhaps the most significant pilgrimage that any of us will ever undertake, however, is the spiritual pilgrimage. Many of us have long been seekers after spiritual truth, even before we became aware of our salvation in Christ. Author David R. Kinsey writes that spiritual pilgrimage "...represents a person's journey from the world of the profane, or ordinary, to the world of the sacred, and as such is often marked by the characteristics of a rite of passage in which the participant undergoes a process of separation, threshold, and incorporation." I believe that for the Christian, separation, threshold and incorporation represent our calling out from the world, our baptism, and our welcome into the Body of Christ. These dramatic events represent life-altering turning points in our sojourn on this earth.

This calling out from the world this separation is actually a pilgrimage in itself. Gradually we begin to experience a certain alienation or disaffection with the world and its ways. We discover that our values lie elsewhere, that our destinies lie elsewhere. We begin to grasp the profound truth that even though we remain in the world, we are no longer of it. We begin to feel like strangers where once we felt at home. That is just as it should be. Welcome to the world of the saints!

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth (Hebrews 11.13 KJV).
In our Christian journey as strangers and pilgrims, we find ourselves seeking after spiritual realities and questing after sacredness in our physical circumstances. On both levels we desire evidence of God in our lives and a removal, if only temporarily, from the "profane, or ordinary" that too often surrounds us. Some of us have made nudism a vital part of our spiritual pilgrimage. Perhaps we never intended it at first, but nudism has become a powerful symbol of our separation from the world and its value system.

Just what is a symbol? The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary defines a symbol as "that which stands for or represents something else; a visible sign or representation of an idea or quality." The most powerful of all Christian symbolism is that of the bread and wine, representing Christ's own flesh and blood that was sacrificed as an atonement for our sins. The Bible, of course, is rich with symbols, perhaps because they are such powerful communicators.

So what does nudism symbolize? I believe nudism symbolizes certain freedoms, to begin with. Examples would be freedom from a shallow definition of modesty that seems to be measured strictly on the basis of how much skin is covered by clothing, freedom from the way this culture stereotypes and pigeonholes people based on how they dress, and freedom from the undeserved body-shame that plagues so many in our world today.

"Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Genesis 1.26 KJV) takes on added significance for Christian nudists. Nudism symbolizes acceptance of the sacredness of the image of God as it is reflected in the human body. Modest nakedness within a moral environment represents a way to glorify God by showing forth this crowning achievement of His creativity. And there is more.

Romans 13.14 advises Christians to "Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature." Galatians 3. 27 says, "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." These passages express a wonderful spiritual reality. Christian nudists have made modest nakedness a physical symbol of this truth a tangible, outward expression of the inward reality that has made society's moral requirement of clothing redundant.

I believe Christian nudism symbolizes something else as well something quite significant. I believe it represents a yearning or longing for the original goodness that mankind once enjoyed in Eden, and I believe it also represents anticipation of the restoration of that goodness in the New Heaven and New Earth.

I was introduced to the concept of "original goodness" by a friend who lives in North Carolina. One of the benefits of a newsletter that encourages participation from readers is that it continually exposes us to new ideas and different perspectives about our common interest. Original goodness is what I call a "why didn't I think of that" idea. It's so fresh, descriptive and simple.

I believe "original goodness" represents everything that we find desirable in the story of Eden. Along with innocence, freedom and vibrant health, Adam and Eve enjoyed a correct relationship with their natural surroundings, a harmonious relationship with each other, and an intimate fellowship with God.

I once read a book called Yearning: Living Between How It Is & How It Ought to Be. I think this imaginative title captures the very essence of our alienation in this world. Though a spiritual relationship with God similar to that once enjoyed by Adam and Eve has been restored to us through Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf, we nevertheless remain in this world. Is it any wonder, then, that we should feel like strangers here? Is it any wonder that we should want to experience something more than this world commonly offers, something resembling (if only symbolically) "original goodness"?

For spiritual people, modest nakedness can certainly symbolize this desire for original goodness. However, I believe we should  view it not so much as symbolizing a return to what once was as a forward-looking symbol of what will one day be again a totally restored communion with God and the people around us an innocence regained.

In some measure the symbols that are a part of our life are representations of who we are and what we believe. Symbols are in a sense "postcards" from our pilgrimages. They help to let others know where we are, where we've been, and where we are going on our journeys.

Symbols can mean different things to different people, of course. These days, for instance, a cross on a chain around our neck is more likely to be viewed as a trendy piece of costume jewelry than a symbol of our Redeemer and our redemption. Displaying a symbol is often not enough to convey the idea behind it. Symbols may require  explanations.

An example from the Bible will further demonstrate what I mean. Look at Isaiah 20.2: "At that time the LORD spoke through Isaiah son of Amoz. He said to him, 'Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet.' And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot." What were people to think? Would they think Isaiah was possessed? Maybe out of his mind? Truly a vile sinner? Fortunately, they did not have to guess. The reason for Isaiah's nakedness was explained to them. In verses 3-5 we read, "Then the LORD said, 'Just as my servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot for three years, as a sign and portent against Egypt and Cush, so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles, young and old, with buttocks bared to Egypt's shame. Those who trusted in Cush and boasted in Egypt will be afraid and put to shame'" (my emphasis).

The symbolic nature of Isaiah's nakedness would have been meaningless or worse without an explanation. With the explanation, however, the symbol became powerfully prophetic.

Nudism can represent much more than just recreation without clothes. It can symbolize spiritual realities and spiritual longings that are dear to our hearts. The spiritual aspects of our nudism are obviously not outwardly apparent. For them to have meaning for others they need to be verbalized or written about.

I recognize that explaining the spiritual symbolism of Christian nudism may not be easy, but I do believe that it is something worth doing. Sharing our ideas with other open-minded nudists could open the door to explaining the Gospel to them as well. Explaining our views to non-nudist Christians might make it possible for them to understand what the modest nakedness of social nudism can represent in the lives of God's people.

Such sharing is not without risks. No matter how carefully we choose those to whom we will share our views, and no matter how prepared we are for their questions, things can go wrong. This fact leads me to address another kind of symbolism possible in our nakedness. Imagine this scenario, if you will. We have just revealed that we are nudists to a Christian couple that we thought would be open-minded enough to at least try to understand what we are doing and why. We unexpectedly meet with derision and insult. They accuse us of gross immorality and even suggest that we might be demon possessed. They then proceed to shun us.

Here's a somewhat related scenario. One day, while lawfully naked, we encounter a clothed person who doesn't understand why we would choose to be nude. Despite our explanations, he mocks and humiliates us with his eyes and his words. He calls us perverts and worse.

Take heart! If the motivation for our nakedness is pure and heaven minded, then I believe that in some small way our temporary humiliation symbolically joins us with our Lord and the shame He endured as He was crucified on the cross. Being forcibly stripped naked during crucifixion was intended to shame a person in front of his punishers and in front of his peers. We read in Hebrews 12.2-3 that Jesus "endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (my emphasis). Humiliation is not something that can be enjoyed it is not meant to be. I do believe, however, that humiliation received unjustly in the cause of Christ can ultimately bring blessing. "But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed," says 1 Peter 3.14-15. "'Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.' But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." Restored goodness is part of my hope in Christ. Nudism symbolizes that hope for me, and I stand ready to explain this unique symbol "with gentleness and respect," of course.

In his book The Outward Bound, Vernard Eller writes, "Salvation cannot be understood as a state of having it made, of settling down to enjoy a condition of secure accomplishment. Instead, salvation is the experience of being made free to travel, of being called out by a leader-lord and enabled to follow him on his way to the kingdom" (my emphasis). Can you feel the excitement and anticipation in these words? Can you sense the adventure ahead? The idea of spiritual pilgrimage holds all of this for me and more!

Strangers, pilgrims and sojourners are just some of the ways that the Bible describes the redeemed. We are the called out the set apart. There should be distinct differences between us and the world and its values. On any number of levels I view Christian nudism as powerfully symbolic of these differences.

Strangers and pilgrims? In the world but not of it? May the symbols of our pilgrimage leave no doubt!

This article is from Issue 12 of Fig Leaf Forum and was written by the editor.

Next article: Of Tabernacles And Reverence

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