At the time this essay is due to be posted I am on a religious pilgrimage that is retracing the footsteps of St Paul through Greece and Turkey. This is the fourth international pilgrimage that I have participated in. What draws me? What am I hoping to experience? Who do I know I will encounter?
Pilgrimage implies journey. We recognize that we are here on this earth only briefly. And yet we have the ability to imagine eternity. Where does that come from? A person of faith understands that we, as fragile, mortal beings, aspire to the immortal as aspiration, as invitation from one who is eternal. “All people are grass; their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.” Isaiah 40:6-8 We journey then in recognition that life is a journey through this world in which we come to appreciate that all comes from God and all returns to God.
Pilgrimage implies relationship. Every healthy, growing and loving relationship involves sacrifice for the sake of the beloved. Investing time and resources with the intent of deepening our relationship with God speaks to our desire for Him.
Pilgrimage is then investment. No relationship can grow unless both are willing to give of self for the sake of the other. Jesus has already shown us the depth of his love, the depth of his investment in us: “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not regard equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. He was known to be of human estate and it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross.” Philippians 2:6-8 Pilgrimage demonstrates that we are willing to give of ourselves in return for all that Jesus has done for us.
Pilgrimage is touchstone. We journey to very places where important events of our faith occurred, and where key persons of our faith witnessed to their faith in Jesus, their commitment to Jesus in how they lived and loved to reinforce the sheer reality of our history. It grounds us, literally, in our faith – similar to the way that Naaman asked Elisha for two mule loads of earth from Israel because of his healing from leprosy.
Pilgrimage is discovery. I know from past pilgrimage experience that I will learn something about myself that will help me become a better version of myself, more closely resembling who God dreamed me to be when he knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Pilgrimage is encounter. One does not go on pilgrimage to find God. One goes on pilgrimage to come to a greater awareness that God is already near to us. God journeys through life with us. God journeys through our lives within us. “For In him we live and move and have our being”. Acts 17:28
I will be keeping you all in prayer during this pilgrimage. May God find us all with open hearts.