A Season of Pilgrimages
By Rev. Alicia Randolph Rapking
I am not the same as I was last year this time. I have reached a time in my life when the youngest of our children will soon leave home and join his brother and sister as they find their places in this world, discovering what they are called to do and how to go about making a difference. Ethan and Grace have been on this part of their journey for a while now and they offer all kinds of wisdom and advice to Andrew as he takes these next steps. And so, in August, Andrew will leave home, even if it is just across the street to WV Wesleyan and I will recognize even more that I am not the same as I was last year this time.
Actually, if I tell the truth, I am not the same as I was twenty months ago when, one day, I became aware of God calling me to something new, something different, something deeper. It was not a call to a new place or a new job and at the time I wasn’t sure what to call it. I am still not quite sure. It has been a fascinating time for me to discover a deeper relationship with God and lately, I have started to notice that the word “pilgrimage” seems more and more appropriate to describe this part of my life.
I feel like I am in good company as I think about this time in my life as a pilgrimage. Journey stories are found throughout the Bible. Adam and Eve had a journey out of the Garden of Eden. Abraham and Sarah and their extended family and support system journeyed from one homeland to another. Moses and all of the children of Israel journeyed through the wilderness, heading for a Promised Land. Yearly, the Hebrew people journeyed to Jerusalem to observe the Passover.
In the New Testament, Mary and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem and then to Egypt and then to Nazareth. Jesus and his followers traveled throughout their region of the world. The Apostle Paul and other apostles as well, traveled many places, including Thomas to Egypt.
In the history of the church there are numerous stories of pilgrimages. It became a holy moment in the life of a parish when one of the members would bring the pilgrimage walking stick to the parish priest to be blessed. The walking stick would “hold” the prayers of the priest and the people as the pilgrim set out on the journey. The prayers would carry the pilgrim to the destination and then back home.
According to the ever popular fount of wisdom, Wikipedia, a pilgrimage is a “journey or search of moral or spiritual significance.” Some definitions include the importance of a shrine involved in pilgrimages or that pilgrimages are made to certain locations of importance to the faith. For me, I understand pilgrimage as the journey itself, especially in spending time making new discoveries about who God is in the depths of our souls. I understand pilgrimages to include a deepening awareness of the presence of God, with us continually.
As I read and think about pilgrimages I am learning about how different cultures think about and understand these journeys. In Australia these journeys are called “dreaming tracks” or “Songlines.” Bruce Chatwin wrote about these journeys in his book Songlines and some of his descriptions captivate me:
“I have a vision of the Songlines stretching across continents and the ages; that wherever men have trodden they have left a trail of song (of which we may, now and then, catch an echo). . .”
I believe God offers us Songlines, trails of songs that are calling for us to travel and discover how the God of peace and joy, of love and forgiveness, of creation and eternal is with us so deeply and profoundly each moment of our lives. In our chaotic world I think many of us are seeking to be more aware of God, knowing that awareness may call us to transform the way we live and act and treat all of humanity and creation. Indeed we find this call in the words of the prophet Jeremiah:
“Yet the Lord pleads with you still: Ask where the good road is, the godly paths you used to walk in, in the days of long ago. Travel there, and you will find rest for your souls.” –Jeremiah 6:16
And so I am on a pilgrimage. Actually, what I feel called to at the moment is a season of pilgrimages, a season of many journeys that will bring me to a deeper understanding of God, humanity, and unconditional love and a deeper understanding of myself. I have already experienced a few of these journeys. I am certain that I will be writing about these pilgrimages and what I discover over the next year.
To God alone be glory!