Taking Time for a Pilgrimage

Have you ever been on a pilgrimage? Dictionary.com defines it as “a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion.”

The closest I’ve come to going on a pilgrimage was the trip my husband and I took to Israel some years ago. It was a time of soaking up the word of God while being in the very places where the events of the Bible happened. It was a stirring time during which I experienced several moments of ‘epiphany’ and insight.

I remember one day in particular. I was alone, having had to stay behind with an elderly woman in our group who had taken a bad fall. While she rested in her room, I took a walk along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and stopped for a while to read my Bible. I landed on the calling of James and John in Matthew 4. When I finished and looked up, the sun was pouring through the clouds, striking the lake with a glorious stream of light and I was struck by the sudden realization that the very words I’d been reading had occurred in that place. And the words took on a deeper meaning, a more clear reality.

Going on a pilgrimage is a very old concept, one that began centuries ago. Some trace it back as far as Abraham, who was charged by God to leave his home and travel to a far country. It is believed Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land began as early as the 4th century A.D.

True pilgrimage is not just about travelling to a far-away place. I like what Brian Morykon, Director of Communications at the Renovaré Institute, said about it. “It’s a journey undertaken with a humble heart and with an openness to be transformed. The pilgrim isn’t trying to get somewhere as fast as possible. She wants to become someone along the way. She’s willing to linger, to reflect, to slow down.”

That is exactly what I hoped for those who would read Abundant Rain, my collection of devotionals for writers of faith. I chose Deuteronomy 32:2 as the theme of the book: “Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.” It has become my prayer for all my work, and I hoped it would be so for readers of Abundant Rain, that their writing would flow out to their readers with refreshment and enlightenment that would cause many epiphanies.

Although a pilgrimage is and should be a deeply individual thing, it is usually undertaken with others, and for good reason. The Christian walk is not a solitary affair. It is meant to occur in community.

After a time of prayer one day, I began to ponder the idea that writing is not done in isolation either, as many might suggest. Writing is a communal effort toward wholeness, both for the writer and all those who assist her, and for the reader as she takes in the words and then puts hands and feet to them in the world around her. So I launched the first Abundant Rain Pilgrimage, that I might share in a pilgrimage of words that bring epiphanies, with others.

That first group was small but mighty, committed to the process and the goal of “becoming someone along the way,” someone refreshed and rejuvenated by drawing closer to Christ.

I’m excited to launch a second pilgrimage in the days ahead, using Volume 2 of Abundant Rain as the catalyst.

As often happens, God has encouraged me along the way. I opened my email the other day to find a message from Malcolm Guite who has written a wonderful book called Word in the Wilderness, which “introduces poems about pilgrimage itself and our life as pilgrimage.”

I leave you with a few words from the poems Malcolm chose –

“At length I go unto the gladsome hill,
Where lay my hope,
Where lay my heart;”

(The Pilgrimage by George Herbert)

“And thus I’ll take my pilgrimage
… My soul will be a-dry before;
But after, it will thirst no more.”

(The Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage by Walter Raleigh)

And some words from Malcolm’s poem, First Steps, Brancaster:

“This is the day to leave the dark behind you
Take the adventure, step beyond the hearth
Shake off at last the shackles that confined you,
and find the courage for the forward path.”

And finally, scripture:

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.”

(Psalm 84:5)