What makes a journey into a pilgrimage?
These past two weeks I have been (as one wildly privileged) travelling in Britain, visiting family and taking a quick side hike into the Lake District. Throughout this allegedly ordinary and secular trip, I have been plagued by thoughts of pilgrimage. We have each, in the past weeks, retrodden a few childhood steps, seeking perhaps that other country in which innocence lies abandoned, guarded now by angels with flaming swords. Would it, in fact, be claiming too much to say that any journey which leads us to wrestle more closely with Christ, which means moves us to prayer, brings us to tears or to our knees, could become the way of pilgrimage?
At a certain point on the mountainside, I found myself inspired by the uphill work of putting one foot in front of the other to consider Jesus’ parables about the persistent and insistent qualities of prayer. It is only after many miles, a few stumbles, scratches, and bruises from the rocky scramble; several fearful moments, and necessary pauses among hospitable crags, that we are able to look up and realize not only how far we have come, and how far is left to go, but also the sweet mercies of the journey itself – flashes of beauty, and a promising vision.
We visited an ancient cathedral set in a tiny city, its pillars bowed out at alarming angles, flying buttresses bearing the weight of centuries of prayer. No service of worship presented itself, but the very place elicited soul-sighs by its faithful and enduring example.
What makes a journey into a pilgrimage. Soon, I’ll be home near the shores of Lake Erie. Each time I stand on the edge of the water (however much I miss the close ocean of this island), I am reminded of God’s labour of creation.
Pilgrimage, after all, is not a single destination, but the journey of a restless heart, pursuing the ubiquitous, immanent, and elusive Spirit of God.
The Reverend Rosalind C Hughes is the Rector of the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio, and a regular contributor to the Episcopal Cafe. Her blog, over the water, at rosalindhughes.com, offers further prayers and reflections from her recent journey. Her first book, A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing is due for publication by Upper Room Books in April 2020.