All throughout Ireland are pilgrim paths of yesteryear. Literal walking trails where saints of old once walked as they made pilgrimage from one place of worship and study to another. Along nearly every road and trail throughout the land grow wild black raspberries, a welcome and satisfying refreshment as one walks. An Irishman once told me the berries are there for whoever finds them and each pilgrim knows to only consume as many as one should, being sure to leave more than enough for those who follow. This is a good proverb for much of life.
Pilgrimages take many forms. Reading of pilgrimages of days gone by tells me that they were difficult and cost a great deal. The cost included leaving all that was loved and familiar, sleeping in beds and eating food not one’s own. Days of gainful employment were left behind as the pilgrim set out knowing that loneliness and being misunderstood was part of having said yes to go seeking. Some things haven’t changed all that much.
As we recently journeyed through the Argyll region of Scotland it struck me that while the word ‘pilgrimage’ has lost much of its meaning and therefore power in our day, pilgrimages themselves happen every day. Viewing a pilgrimage as setting out into that which is unknown, seeking a fresh encounter with God, I was reminded of all the people who either vacation or move house from one place to another to seek Him. Religious schools of every flavor and belief imaginable abound because of those who make pilgrimage seeking truth, longing for a fresh touch of His presence. Instead of walking for weeks or months as did the ancients, now flights are booked and housing arranged as east goes west and west flies in every direction imaginable. Some pilgrimages are walked along ancient routes, retracing the steps of those who long ago set aside time from the hustle and bustle of their day to seek a God encounter. Today most pilgrimages are made by flying somewhere to sit under the influence of a respected teacher, and perhaps the greatest sacrifice made is turning the cell phone to ‘off’ in order to concentrate and break the habit of needing to know what everyone else is doing instead of be-ing, just oneself and God.
For that is the essence and fulfillment of pilgrimage – to find what one seeks. In terms of Christian pilgrimage, to place oneself in a situation that is unfamiliar so that leaning on and trusting Him in deeper and more urgent ways is vital, listening more closely and thereby touching a facet of His vastness as yet unexplored and unknown. To learn to just BE with just Him.
Our recent pilgrimage helped restore our faith in mankind. Time after time we witnessed unexpected kindness and strangers being helpful and giving to other strangers. Perhaps we are not as wicked a people overall as the evening news would have us believe. Each of us on the team found ourselves at a loss for words to express what we were seeing with both our physical and spiritual eyes. We went seeking the Lord’s heart and expression not only for ourselves but for nations. What we found left us changed and speechless. Thankfully Holy Spirit’s groans speak heaven’s language and even the inexpressible in us is worship.