Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
I grew up with a fairly vague idea of what it meant to be a pilgrim.
The only times I heard about pilgrims was each year at Thanksgiving.
All I knew was that pilgrims wore funny hats and ate turkey dinners. Later on, I heard about the book “Pilgrim’s Progress” and concluded that being a pilgrim must have something to do with English history. I did not see that pilgrims and pilgrimages had anything to do with me or my everyday life.
My life has become a journey, a pilgrimage. I am moving from a focus on attaining tangible results to exploring spiritual depth. In beginning to recognize and appreciate my journey, I am gaining an understanding of what pilgrimage means. My pilgrimage is teaching me the meaning of being a pilgrim.
People who take pilgrimages erase the boundary between what we see as sacred and what we see as everyday life. While they set out on a path to reach a specific destination, the lessons and development the pilgrimage has for them come from the journey. They receive their benefits along the way. Wise pilgrims find spiritual depth each day, each step, of the pilgrimage.
I am a spiritual director. I help people find ways to discover and explore their own spiritual depth. I listen to their stories, ask them questions, and help them gain fresh insights in new ways. Together, we find what is sacred in the everyday. We explore ways to practice living in God’s loving presence.
Each person with whom I work is a pilgrim on their own pilgrimage. I help them find the lessons of each day, each step.
Often we sit and talk. There is something about sitting with someone at a table that builds community. It is like taking a break at the end of a day, resting and reflecting in preparation for continuing the journey. Some people prefer to sit and talk; others need a rocking chair to help them find their rhythm. For others, it is more helpful to take a walk.
Walking can be more helpful than talking. I meet with some people who, as I guide their steps down the sidewalk, are more able to engage with their own stories. Walking helps them remember the narrative of their experiences, and to put the pieces together in new ways. Walking gets their blood flowing, and they become more aware of where their story has taken them. Walking helps them talk about the connections between the sacred and the everyday.
I work with a few people who take the opportunity to walk and explore silence.
We begin with some talking and listening, and them we take to the sidewalk. We agree where we will go, and we do not talk to each other until we reach where we are going. Our intention is to be open to the life around us, and our pilgrimage has a great deal to teach us. We interact with other pedestrians, and with drivers, without talking to them. We are more aware of the sights and sounds all around us. We smell the aromas of the coffee houses and the florist shops that we pass. We feel the warmth of the sun, or the humidity in the air, more clearly each time. The mountains in the distance bring to mind passages from the Psalms. The people we encounter remind us of the depth and diversity of God’s love for us.
Each of our senses is a way for God to remind us how close God is to us.
On our pilgrimage, there is nothing we can do or say that will bring God closer, and nothing that will move us away from God. Our pilgrimage is not about reaching a destination, either a location or a level of achievement. Our pilgrimage is about what we learn and gain along the way.
Each day, each step, suggests new ways for us to explore God’s loving presence.