The young woman walking the Pacific coast Trail, saw this journey as an opportunity to accomplish something which would help her rectify her earlier misguided life. The Alchemist was a metaphor for life. It depicted life as a journey. The journey across the desert was speaking of an interior search for the secret of life. When we speak of similar activities in such a way, we are capturing the essence of that which we call pilgrimage, the call to accomplish a special life goal.
Pilgrimages are often spoken of in religious life.
The Muslims have the pilgrimage to Medina or Mecca as one of their five essential pillars of faith. Christians have always seen Jerusalem as a destination of pilgrimage, but other locations like Lourdes, Walsingham or Iona are typical alternatives and popular destinations.
In its simplest form the labyrinth or small circular or spiral path laid out in a garden for people to slowly journey towards the centre while reflecting upon life is a model for practicing a pilgrimage in a confined space and often at a convenient spot for a short time. A number of parish churches have recently found space to make their own labyrinth for parishioners to use.
Pilgrimage invites us to think of life as a journey and ask ourselves what it is that we think life’s journey is all about.
JESUS BAPTISM AND WILDERNESS
While there are other examples mentioned in the Old Testament, there is something special about the story of Jesus baptism and the subsequent journey into the wilderness. I invite us to reflect upon it as pilgrimage. It tells us two very special things.
Firstly Jesus pilgrimage is about the life of spirit. I like to think of Spirit as the breath of being, or breath of God. It is the life force, energizing, motivating, enlightening our experience in ever deeper and more meaningful ways. Jesus baptism was a declaration that his very being was grounded in this divine spirit.
“As he came up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Secondly, Spirit is not something separate from life’s experience. It is the essence of our daily living. It is the presence of God moving, coordinating, shaping, calling, challenging, encouraging, transforming, us in our daily journey through time. It calls us to see the sacred reality in the most mundane happening of our day.
Jesus journey into the wilderness highlighted that it is not a simple journey. The brief description of his wilderness experience highlighted three major decisions Jesus had to make in preparation for his public life. There are many questions, options, decisions, obstacles in life and we are called to learn the way of the spirit through them. Jesus story took him through the wilderness of the rugged Judean landscape.
Many authors have followed the theme by speaking of the spirits journey in a contemporary context: ‘True Wilderness’ by H A Williams and ‘The Desert in the City’ by Carlo Carretto are two examples.
AN INTERIOR PILGRIMMAGE
These stories are often presented on face value as if a physical journey, but in reality they are spiritual journeys or pilgrimages because they are really about the interior journey through the many different emotional states of mind, and understandings of life. It is a journey of transformation and maturation that ultimately leads us to discover and embrace the spirit of Christ that is the true essence of all humans.
I find the essence of this faith journey well captured in the title of the book ‘From image to likeness’. Humans are made in the image of God but our call is to grow into the very likeness of Christ. Life as pilgrimage is this journey.
Our Christian tradition encourages us to incorporate this notion of pilgrimage into our life through the Lenten season. What we choose is a personal choice but should be designed to enhance our sense of spirit. For example, I heard someone say they are planning to meditate each day throughout lent, even if it’s for five minutes or perhaps work through the reading of a chapter of scripture per day.
Life itself is a pilgrimage. Every day matters in our walk with Jesus. As we grown in this walk the maturation of our spirit arouses the spirit of the Cosmic Christ that resurrection points to.