And Then There are Pilgrimages …..

Writing about retreats reminded me of another way to “rest with God.”  A pilgrimage. Have you thought of yourself as a pilgrim?  Well it’s a common idea in Christianity and other religions as well.

A pilgrim  is a traveler  who is on journey to a holy place. Typically, this is a physical journey or pilgrimage (often on foot) to some place of special significance to the adherent of a particular religion. In the spiritual literature of Christianity, the concept of pilgrim and pilgrimage may refer to the experience of physical life (considered as a period of exile) or to the inner path of the pilgrim  from a state of wretchedness to a state of beatitude.

Pilgrimages were common in the middle ages.  Remember The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer? (well if you’re an English major you do).  These pilgrims were bound for Canterbury to the Shrine of Thomas a Becket, a Christian martyr.  Today a famous pilgrimage site is the Camino de Santiago in Spain, where thousands of pilgrims each year walk to the Shrine of St. James.

Pilgrimages, like retreats, offer a break or rest from day to day life.  Often they are made with traveling companions who, like Chaucer’s pilgrims, share stories and testimonies.  Just spending time walking is a way of slowing down and relaxing.  Taking the time to listen to those we’ve never met is rare in everyday life.

You don’t have to travel to Spain or England to make a pilgrimage, and you don’t have to go with a large group.  If you are on vacation, or even in your home town, study the area and select a church or another place with religious experience.  Go to visit, walk around.  Speak with others who are there, or tour guides who know about the location.  When my husband and I went to visit friends in South Carolina, they took us to one of the oldest churches in that area.  The church was open, and we spoke with some current members who were there as hosts.  We learned about its’ history.  It was a sort of pilgrimage.

Another way to go on a pilgrimage is to walk a labyrinth.  While some think this is a new age fad, it is actually an ancient Christian tradition.  The most famous is in the Cathedral of Chartres in France.  Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has one winding path that takes you to the center and then back out again.  It was considered a substitute for those who could not make an actual pilgrimage.  Walking a labyrinth is calming and meditative.  I have done this a number of times and would recommend it as an occasional spiritual exercise.  See if there’s one in your area.  The last one I walked was in Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina.  Sometimes churches will have these, as well.

My point is — get creative with rest!  You can go on retreat, walk a labyrinth, take a pilgrimage.  You can create your own spiritual adventure.  Rest takes many forms, so try new things and find what works for you.  Just make sure your rest is the kind that renews you spiritually as well as physically.

God loves you and so do I!

 

 

Environment #6 Final Steps

The final step in the environment’s transformation is to give yourself in friendship to the people there.  Win their hearts by showing a genuine care and concern for them.  A true friend does not force her views on others, but works patiently with them, helping them to question the values of the world, maybe even the values for which they have been living.  Years ago I was in a neighborhood Bible Study.  The leader told me that one of the members had originally joined only because she was suffering from depression and was looking for any activity that would get her our of the house.  One day she was feeling so sad she called to say she just couldn’t make herself get out of bed to come.  The other women decided it wasn’t enough to pray for her–they went over to her house, cleaned it and cooked dinner.  Their love and compassion had a lasting impact.  She saw something in their lives that she wanted.  She became a Christian because, as she put it, “Who wouldn’t want to be part of this?”

As we become more Christlike ourselves, and as we influence our friends and others around us toward the Christian ideal, our environments will change.  If you open a Via de Cristo Pilgrim’s Guide, the first thing you see, even before the table of contents are these words:

“To be on a pilgrimage is to go through Christ to the Father, under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, bringing others along with you.”

Each one of us is on just such a pilgrimage every day of our lives.

Environments are not changed suddenly or by magic.  You cannot change the world, but you can change yourself;  and as Paul says in the book of Galatians, “a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.”  Allow God to use you and you will be the leaven that raises the bread.