It is my season of pilgrimage again! The signs are all around me. The last two books that I read have opened with a reference to John Bunyan’s old hymn, All Who Would Valiant Be:
All who would valiant be ‘gainst all disaster, let them in constancy follow the Master. There’s no discouragement shall make them once relent their first avowed intent to be a pilgrim.
Then, I read a quirky and poignant book called The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye by Rachel Joyce, after seeing it recommended several places. I was taken with its seemingly simple premise that deepens and flowers chapter after chapter, as the central character recognizes his need for wholeness and redemption as he walks from Cornwall to Scotland.
And in the last week I have been on planes, trains and buses, taking me to places of wonder and delight. They have been pilgrimages of celebration–of anniversaries, birthdays, history, and they have been pilgrimages of love–of accompaniment, of support, of shared joy.
All of this is in preparation for what’s coming up for me: a trip to Ireland and a birthday taking me into a new decade. There is celebration and joy in this pilgrimage, but there is also a longing to know something more about the Mystery we call God, appearing in the created world, in the historical remnant of faithful communities of the past, in the company of beloved ones who will be my companions. I have been very mindful about packing lists and itineraries, connections and plans. I am leaving as prepared as I know how to be. But when I think of these turnings as spiritual pilgrimage, not just tourism or getting older, I know there is more. The concept of pilgrimage is one that has been central to my life of Spirit since I was younger, when I heard a conference speaker tell me for the first time that I could hear, that our lives with God are about the journey of companionship with the Holy One, not the successful completion of a goal. It is about the process of walking, traveling with God, not ticking off accomplishments. It is a life of Spirit in which the process, the way I walk with God, is ultimately more important than check list of good things I achieve. It is a way of Grace, Grace that has led me safely thus far and the Grace that will lead me home. At Patheos I see that the idea of being a pilgrim is one that grounds and liberates many of the contributors, and I want to be one too.
So my interior preparation for these turnings is as equally important as my rain gear and flashlight. I need to cultivate qualities of Spirit as I prepare to move forward: first, trust. I am a skittish traveler, and it is not natural for me to embrace change. There is a very old part of me that faced with unknown territory wants to lapse into the mantra: It’s strange, new and different and I don’t like it. But I remind myself that on pilgrimage–to a new place or to a new decade–I don’t travel unattended. There is no place that I can go that is outside the circle of God’s care, as the Psalmist asserts. The Holy One who dwells in me and in the universe is equally Present in my own cozy corner overlooking my garden and in an airport, a security line, or land that uses euros instead of dollars. I keep practicing the trust that the Spirit who was present at my conception and birth will accompany me through each day I am given to live, and through the processes it takes to get there.
The other important quality I must nurture for pilgrimage is humility–the humility that allows me to take in and receive information, experiences and people who are unfamiliar, but can teach me, expand my awareness and open my heart to God’s presence in ways that I have never imagined, hidden things I do not know. What I have learned and what I have experienced in my life has been a gift that I can share, but I still have much to see, hear and find out about the ways of the Holy One in the world. Humility softens my heart for those learnings. Pilgrimage to another country or to another decade create the opportunity.
In these days before takeoff, I join the psalmist singing: Happy are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on the pilgrim way. (Psalm 84:5)