As many of you know, I embark on a ten-day “Familiarization Pilgrimage to the Holy Land” next week. The trip will be led by three Episcopal clergy: Dominique Barrington, the Dean of St. James Cathedral in Chicago; Bishop Barry Beisner of the Diocese of Northern California; and our own Bishop Greg Rickel. While the blessing of traveling for the first time to the Near East—visiting places where Jesus may have lived and taught and healed—excites and quickens my imagination, I must say that it is the idea of undertaking a pilgrimage which most affects me.
From the dawn of Christianity, seekers have traveled to holy places as a spiritual practice. Our modern-day celebrations of Holy Week came to us via the travel journals of a fourth-century nun who made her pilgrimage to Jerusalem! For centuries, Catholics have made pilgrimage to various churches around Europe; those in Latin America may travel many miles as pilgrims to a shrine for Our Lady. For our brothers and sisters who practice Islam, a pilgrimage to Mecca is a foundational aspect of their faith. I wondered: what makes someone a “pilgrim”?
Common aspects of a pilgrimage—whether in the Middle Ages or today, Christian or Buddhist or Muslim—include journeying far from the comforts of home. From what I’ve seen of our three hotels: Der Pilgerhaus Tabgha (where I can practice my German!), The Orient Palace Casa Nova in Manger Square of Bethlehem (will there be room?), and the Gloria Hotel in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem—we won’t be giving up too much in the way of comfort.
Pilgrims also typically endure the rigors of long treks, and carry little with them other than a deep, inner purpose. What purpose will I take with me, along with my plug adapter and my passport and books? I’m reading a book by noted theologian and Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann entitled, Chosen? Reading the Bible Amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Westminster John Knox Press: 2015), as well as Sonia Weaver’s What is Palestine-Israel? Answers to Common Questions (Herald Press: 2007). I’m very much aware that we travel to this Holy Land at a complex time, and I appreciate Brueggeman’s sharing the Hebrew understanding of the land and people as a unified entity, and I share his hope for their wellbeing.
As a former Californian, I’m accustomed to roads being called “Camino,” which is Spanish for “way” or “road.” This is often the word used to describe a pilgrimage, too, entailing a journey that is both external and internal. As part of my research, I discovered a prayer (a blessing, really) for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago:
The Beatitudes of the Pilgrim
Blessed are you, pilgrims, if you find that the Camino opens your eyes to the unseen.
Blessed are you, pilgrims, if what concerns you most is not arriving, but arriving with others.
Blessed are you, pilgrims, when you contemplate the sights of the Camino and find them full of names and new dawns.
Blessed are you, pilgrims, because you have discovered that the true Camino begins at the end.
Blessed are you, pilgrims, if your backpack empties of things as your heart doesn’t know where to fit so many emotions.
Blessed are you, pilgrims, if you discover that a step backwards to help another is more valuable than one hundred forward without awareness of those at your sides.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, please join me in praying not only for myself, but for my fellow pilgrims on this journey. Pray that what I discover in myself I may bring home to you, my congregation, for our mutual well being.
Yours on the Way,