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Pilgrim’s Digress

“The man made answer saying, I am one whose name is Valiant-for-truth,

I am a pilgrim, and am going to the Celestial City.”

  • John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress

 

But there was nothing of the kind:  only the long straight road, very

narrow, and on the left crags rising within a few paces of the road into ice

and mist and, beyond that, black cloud:  on the right, swamps and jungle

sinking almost at once into black cloud.”

  • S. Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress

 

She stared glumly down the long narrow road.  Pilgrim was dissatisfied.  For as long as she could remember she had been traveling this same restricted way, and, frankly, she had become bored.  Boredom made her feel oppressed and now rebellious thoughts raged within her.  A few hundred yards away, in the sultry Sunday afternoon air, Pilgrim could hear the rustle of her fellow travelers as they gathered by the roadside for the Service.  Once more, the leader of the Alathestatos Group would explain to them they were on their way to the Father’s Land.  He would read with them one of the letters which Father had sent to his marching children so that they would not lose sight of the road nor the goal at the road’s end.  Somehow, no matter how difficult the way was, whether the Narrow Road led the travelers up the laborious mountains of the self-sacrifice or down the gloomy swamps of Death, no matter how oppressive the weather was, whether the how arid winds of persecution were blowing or the chilly blasts of loneliness, these Services never failed to revive The Group.

Pilgrim knew that tomorrow, the little band with which she traveled would resume their journey with a speed that could only be explained as a gift of the Father himself.

Pilgrim hesitated. She really should attend the Service, but she was sick of being warned against leaving this narrow little cow path.  After all, what harm could come to an eighteen year old girl from merely taking a pleasant little stroll in the beautiful country bordering the road.  She turned and slipped into the forbidden fields.

The soft, lush grass and stately, leafy trees caused Pilgrim to laugh to herself as she thought of how her parents and the leader of The Group had told her that this country was dangerous.  Certainly, they were ignorant of the real nature of the land beside their Narrow Road.  Suddenly, without any warning, the ground gave way, and Pilgrim fell with a thud into grass-covered hold.  The bottom of the hole was filled with pebbles which bruised Pilgrim, but that did not concern her as much as the fact that the surface of the ground was beyond her reach.

“Unless I get help, I’m trapped here,” she murmured worriedly.  “Here, let me help you out,” said a strong, deep voice.  Startled, Pilgrim looked up with fear, for her parents had also told her of the frightful inhabitants of this country, which was called The World.

“Do you live here?” she asked.

“No, you need not worry, I too am a traveler.”

Reassured by these words, Pilgrim stretched out her hands and was quickly pulled out of her earthen prison.  Her rescuer was a tall, manly young fellow, whose admiring glances were not lost upon Pilgrim.

“My name is Pilgrim,” she stammered.  “I am a traveler in the The Alathestatos Group.  We travel on the Narrow Road back there.”  As she pointed toward the road, she noticed with a twinge how far she had already wandered from it.

Quickly, the stranger attracted her attention again.

“My name is Fals Tolerance.  I am a member of the Alathes Group.  We are not bound by such rigid rules as you are, nor do we travel such a straight road.  Anyone can see that the country here is beautiful.  Of course, we should not penetrate too deeply into This World, but we travelers may enjoy some of its beauties.  After all, our Father owns This World, and if we are careful to avoid those little pitfalls, such as you stumbled into, we can get along very well.”

The handsome stranger’s genial manner and tolerant, almost bemused attitude toward her Group contrasted sharply with the harshness of the Pilgrim’s parents and leader when they talked about the other Groups.  Perhaps, they were ignorant of these other Groups just as they were ignorant of This World.  There was that nasty fall, though I wonder-

“Why don’t you come along with me,” broke in Fals.  No one in your Group has asked you to marry him.  The little difference between our Groups is not enough to warrant our remaining apart.  For I do love you.”

Pilgrim soon agreed, and the two set out for Fals’ Group.  Slowly, the distance between them and the Narrow Road lengthened.  The countryside began to change.  It still was beautiful, but the beauty troubled Pilgrim.  The terrain had become quite rugged.  The smooth little brooks were now rushing torrents, and the lush grass was ranker and denser.  The sun had lost a little of it former brilliance, and weird shadows flickered around Fals and Pilgrim.

At the sight of a huge building, Pilgrim stopped short.  Apparently, some builder had made a dreadful mistake, for the entire structure was sinking into a swamp.  The astonishing thing was that none of the people entering it seemed to notice its impending doom.

“Let’s go on,” said Fals.

But Pilgrim had caught sight of the inscription over the door.  It read, Pseudes Group.

And then all the horror of her precarious situation swept over Pilgrim.  Many, many years ago the Pseudes Group had been faithful travelers of the Narrow Road.  They too had marched their difficult way with never a jaunt into the forbidden fields.  One day they had left, first to struggle along in the fields near the Narrow Road, losing members now and then in the grass-covered pitfalls, and finally, having given up traveling altogether, to settle inThis World with the inevitable result of total destruction.

“I cannot go on.  I cannot leave the Narrow Road and the Alathestatos Group.”

Fals wheeled about, and now visible on his face was a trace of ignorance.

“If you love me, you will not let a quibbling difference separate us.  Besides, you have come so far now to return.”

Pilgrim realized, as she looked back, that they had indeed come a long way.  What had seemed to be a mere stroll had carried them down a long, steep hill, far out of sight of the Narrow Road.  But the mighty impact of years of training strengthened her, and she recalled one of Father’s messages to his traveling children; “So take a fresh grip on life and brace your trembling limbs.  Don’t wander away from the path but forge steadily onward.  On the right path the limping foot recovers strength and does not collapse.”

“I must go back, please come with me. We-“

Now the trace of ignorance on Fals face was joined by a monstrous amount of intolerance as he roared, “I’ll never join your Group of narrow-minded bigots, never, never, NEVER!  And with every shout, he raised his foot high and stamped it furiously into the ground so that, at last, he imbedded it solidly and could not have joined her even if he wanted.

Pilgrim paused for a moment to take one last look at what might have been; then she turns and began running up the hill to the Narrow Road.