Pilgrimage of the spirit

Pilgrimage implies a journey. For me it means a commitment to search, to allow oneself to be led by God to that final union with him, which lies beyond death and which we call heaven.

The implications of accepting to be a pilgrim are many. The setting out, the conscious recognition of being called to this — the very fact that I dare to be a pilgrim, that I dare to try and proclaim by my life that there is something beyond the here and now — is an acknowledgement of the power of God. It is to begin to see the impossible made possible, to sense the incarnate God drawing me on. At the beginning I am carried by the vision, the dream I have had, recognising and being led by the star, the pillar of fire, the pillar of cloud, listening for the quiet voice. This is a time of longing, of courage and of pain. It is a real leaving behind, a stripping of everything to which I have attached some value, a parting from everyone who has left a mark on my life . . . this implies a little death or leaving of something of myself, not without a certain fear or reluctance — Abraham did it, and he is our ‘father of faith’.

Pilgrimage is adventure, is movement, travelling, sometimes knowingly in the right direction, at other times going round in circles, blocking our own vision of the way with our need to be secure, comfortable and satisfied. It is travelling with others, not just alongside them; it is coming to know those others who misunderstand our motives, who have chosen not to enter this mystery of movement to God, or those who are there for the ride, who need to be carried. When I travel, I carry within myself all those I have met who, in some way, have helped to shape my life. These were gifts given at a particular time and place on the pilgrimage. Because their lives have touched mine, we are together for always. And yet, because I am a pilgrim I accept that no one person is so great as to demand all my love, no home is mine yet I belong everywhere, no thing is so great as to demand my attachment. My commitment as a pilgrim is to the pilgrim God, who travels with His people, and is the destination of their travelling. It is wanting Him to make my heart so big that it will welcome all people, all experiences as signs of His speaking to me. The journey with this pilgrim God will lead me through experiences of cold, hunger, fatigue, thirst, emptiness, not-enoughness; it will also lead me through warmth, companionship, wholeness . . . glimpses of the God who is enough, who is everything for me.

Pilgrimage involves times of standing still, times of wondering, absorbing, praying, learning from all my experiences. It is time to recognise the ‘giftness’ of everything — from the daisy growing at my feet, to the star hurled mysteriously into the heavens. It involves a time of ‘building altars’, of deepening my memories of God’s closeness in order to re-light my faith. Each pause on the way is a time of coming to know that I have promised, in love, to give my all, where I am, be it an oasis, be it the desert, the market place knowing that this is not the end, that I will move on, unless He wants me to stay there.

Pilgrimage for me means learning to put down roots very quickly, learning to want to be where I am. It is trying to care profoundly about where I am, about what I am doing in this community, with these people, in this work, knowing that my commitment transcends time and space, it reaches beyond death. It is easy to be tempted to go back to the security of the past, to stay where I am, where I can see. It is easy to make a cosy niche for myself and not allow myself to be challenged by the prospects of moving on . . . and there are some who cannot be moved for this reason. It means sinking all I am and all I have, here where I am, knowing that tomorrow I may be asked to pull out and move on. It is easy, too, to take refuge in the unknown future and to neglect the routine, the God incarnate now. This, essentially, is what makes of each day a journey, each day is a day of promise, a day of trust and faith, a day of setting out another step further along the way. Each day is a day of mystery — knowing that I am where I should be, yet I am not the person I should be.

Death, for me, is the final step of the pilgrimage. It is that moment in my life where I will be totally alone in the presence of God, who will ask me, in the light of the quality of my pilgrimage through time, ‘Are you ready to abandon absolutely everything and to trust me completely?’ And then, I will reach ‘home’, that place from which I originally came. I will recognise God, my ultimate homeland, the end of all my travelling. He who has been with me along the way is there at the end . . . in my end shall be my beginning.

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