Pilgrim People

By Lynne Elwinger, O.C.D.

      The power in a quote is sometimes like the power in a seed. Under the right conditions, it sprouts and grows into a new and different form. This quote by Frederick Buechner was just such a seed for my reflection on the Lent to Easter to Pentecost journey. "Religion points to that area of human experience where in one way or another man [woman] comes upon mystery as a summons to pilgrimage."* I was originally focusing on the Mystery present in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, when that word pilgrimage caught fire in my heart and shifted my focus entirely.

      Have you ever felt that inner urge to make a sacred journey to a holy place? The idea of going on pilgrimage has always appealed to me. Upon reflection, I realized that perhaps all Christians are summoned to a pilgrimage of one kind or another, as a result of living more deeply the life of discipleship to which we are called. Jesus' courageous walk into the heart of the Mystery of his ministry, passion and death, and resurrection was a pilgrimage into the Heart of God. Now we are invited to walk this same path in our own time and place. How we do that will be unique to each of us, and we never walk unaccompanied.


What The Traveler Can Expect

      The traditional pilgrimage is a physical journey, usually on foot and through unfamiliar territory. There will be obstacles and delays on the way but the traveler can expect to receive divine aid. Taking few belongings, the pilgrim often travels alone, and finds food and shelter wherever it is available. Motivated by a spiritual desire, this journey is also a time for inner soul work - a work that may result in a transforming experience of the presence of God. It is definitely not a vacation! Opportunities abound for prayer, reflection, and an entering more deeply into connection with nature and all one meets along the way.

      During such a time of solitude, in which activity is stripped to the bare essentials needed for the journey, the pilgrim hears God differently and is available to respond more fully, and totally new insights may arise. One's shadow side elements also will arise to be seen and embraced in new ways, which can lead to healing. At the end, the transformed pilgrim, having been given a spiritual gift of some sort, is expected to return to share this with the people at home.


Finding Our Way

      Jesus' example invites us to see our entire life experience as a pilgrimage, and has pointed out a path for us to follow. Perpetual pilgrims, we each need to find our own way to create conditions that will allow us to become vulnerably open to encounter with the divine in our everyday lives. Time for solitude, however brief, time for soul-searching and dialogue with God, time to deeply connect with the world around us, being truly present in the "now"; all these are needed to see with pilgrim eyes and hear with pilgrim ears. We are asked to endure pain, to trust without seeing, to accept our own shortcomings, disappointments, unrealistic expectations, and fears as God does - with love. As we open ourselves to divine encounter, our inner geography is rearranged and our way of perceiving ourselves, and the world, changes and grows. We learn to live centered in God and to keep saying "yes" to the continuing journey with all it may hold for us. Jesus' road led through ministry, misunderstanding and persecution, crucifixion, and death, and ended with victory in the Resurrection. The risen Christ shared with the world the gifts received, and we call this Pentecost. Everyday mysticism is the work of the pilgrims who, having experienced an encounter with God and heard the call it contains, are willing to risk the journey through the unknown, into the Heart of God.

*Buechner, Frederick, Summons to Pilgrimage, privately published, p. 84.

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