Forty years of pilgrimage

Third Sunday of Lent, March 12, 2023

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Forty years of pilgrimage

In those days, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses, saying “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst, with our children and our livestock?”

Pilgrimages don’t always go smooth or as planned. In fact, if they do, something’s wrong. Moses might have known this, but his followers certainly did not. They assume the position of the world’s first mob, entitled and loud in their demands.

Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with these people?”

God was not about to be intimidated, but he knew how thirsty the people were.

Go over there in front of the people, and hold in your hand the staff with which you struck the river. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb. Strike the rock and the water will flow from it for the people to drink.

He did, and it did, and the people did. God was not offended when the people asked, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?”

We make our own pilgrimages, long and short. But we must not reduce the word too much. “Pilgrimages are no walk in the park.” On a pilgrimage we are intended to get uncomfortable inside and out, to get mud on our boots and dirt in our socks. Wes Granberg-Michaelson:

Pilgrims move in two directions at the same time—an outward direction toward a holy destination and an inward journey seeking an encounter with the sacred.

Cleverly Victor and Edith Turner write:

“Pilgrimage may be thought of as extroverted mysticism, just as mysticism is introverted pilgrimage.”

I don’t walk enough these days. My hips get sore, and sometimes I have to catch my breath. I feel sadly deprived of many beautiful trails up the hills to vistas unavailable from where I’m standing, looking up. But pilgrimage remains available for me, for all of us. Of course I walk, but mostly I let my spirit walk where it wants to take me.

A pilgrimage is a rejection of modernity’s expectations and assumptions about time, place, perception, satisfaction, speed, predictability, and the material world. Pathways that move simultaneously in inward and outward directions prove irresistible to throngs roaming pilgrimage paths today. The Spirit yearns to break out and to break open our old practices, our protective shells of comfortable spirituality, connecting our inner selves more deeply to God’s love and to God’s world.

Once in Washington’s Cascade Mountains I left my aunt’s cabin for a walk. I wore a red flannel shirt. Along the way I met a dog, and we climbed up what turned out to be a pretty big mountain. It was called Dirtyface Mountain.

It was nearly dark by the time I arrived back home. Margaret was not quite frantic, but no one expected me to be gone so long. Still, that’s one of the best experiences of my life.

Your soul no longer stays still. It’s moving with God in the world, and moving toward God, revealed in signs or shrines or saints or surroundings. The pilgrim’s walking body holds incarnate this inner journey of the soul.

Yep. Just that.

 (Exodus 17, Psalm 95, Romans 5, John 4)

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