By Dana Kramer-Rolls
Browsing Facebook I came across some pictures of Spain posted by an old friend I had not seen in forever. And each day more and more of them. And then I got it. He and his new wife were walking the ancient pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago. Walking. About 500 miles, on the average 16 miles a day for 48 days. They slept at alburges along the way, some as simple as student hostels, some more like four star hotels. Although the posts weren’t particularly religious, I finally posted asking. Yes, this was a holy pilgrimage, not on bloody knees in deep penitence or for healing. Yes, with some of the touristy adventure which have been normal for pilgrims since the Middle Ages. Check out Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales for an example.
A pilgrimage normally has a goal in mind, a holy place or one of special significance. We hear of life’s pilgrimage, whose goal is undefined. But all pilgrimages require hardship. Who goes on pilgrimages anymore? We all do. Some are intentional. A day walking to some holy site or a week in the mountains with a spiritual guide. But there are other kinds of pilgrimages, ones taken by the displaced, poor, hungry, afraid. Pilgrimages forced on us by need.
California is burning. That is no surprise. California burns every year, and often year round. This time it came in dozens of different places, suddenly, uncontrolled, and in the heavily populated wine country of Northern California. Whole cities have been leveled. As of Friday morning 33 dead, hundreds injured, and several hundred more missing, and the numbers go up daily. And who knows how many animals, domestic and wild, have died terrible deaths. The cell towers are gone. Power is gone. We can’t find people because our infrastructure is gone.
The world is full of inadvertent pilgrims. Millions fleeing the wars in the Middle East and Africa. Others forced to seek new places escaping fire, flood, starvation, pestilence, and enemies. The world has become a pilgrims’ progress. Jesus started life as a pilgrim, first to Bethlehem, then to Egypt, and to the desert, the mountain of the Transfiguration, Jerusalem, and one last pilgrimage, to the Cross. But he returned in glory to embrace all of us pilgrims on our life’s road. Who makes pilgrimage? Yes, we all do. Some of us make voluntary pilgrimages to renew our faith. Some seeking safety. Some make the ordinary pilgrimage of a life in Christ. But we are not alone, never alone. Christ, who in his life with us was a pilgrim following the path his Father laid out for him, goes with us, guides us, comforts us, uplifts us, and gathers our souls at the end.
Please remember all pilgrims in your prayers. But as I smell the smoke, see the blood red sun, breathe in the air heavy laden with ash, and I am over 50 miles from the nearest fire, please remember those in Northern California who have had pilgrimage thrust upon them, and all those who have reached out to them, being Jesus’ hands, offering shelter, help, and comfort.
Dr. Dana Kramer-Rolls is a parishioner at All Souls Parish, Episcopal, Berkeley, California and earned her master’s degree and PhD from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Californi