April 2011: Pilgrimages

April 2011: Pilgrimages

Grab your boots and your Bible and go! You know you want to (or the still, small voice inside you does). So, what’s holding you back?

Ok, so there’s fear.

You’re scared to face your confusion, your despair or your deep disappointments in work or relationships.

You’re frightened, too, that the whole boots ’n’ Bible experience might land you slap-bang up against God in ways that would cause you to lose it or to come undone.

Or perhaps you’re just lazy: Comfortable in your Christianity and its habits and in believing that it’s best to let your personal and societal sleeping dogs lie.

Or maybe you’re unfit. Fighting a pitched battle with your feelings of unworthiness or guilt — as plenty of us are.

There’s no denying it can be risky to let your vulnerability hang out like a bushwhacker’s shirttail while you’re hauling your (actual and metaphorical) bones and clapped out muscles towards the source of living water.

But Uniting Church President, the Rev. Alistair Macrae, and this Synod’s Moderator, the Rev. Niall Reid, are recommending we do precisely that.

What they’re on about is pilgrimage. An ancient concept resurrected for this new day.

In the lead up to Easter they’re asking us to pack our reticence in our backpacks and consider pilgrimage’s greatest plus: You might be reborn!

Still sceptical? Consider this: The worst that can happen is that you’ll develop spiritual stamina. Read Andrew Prior’s account of his pitch-black night cycling (page 17) for a glimpse of what I mean.

Modern pilgrims talk of their journeys as circuit breakers from the stress and pain of our increasingly selfish lifestyles and joyless society. They say the “footslog” is restorative in the way it fosters reflection, fellowship, solidarity and generosity.

Many describe a deeply personal experience with communal elements: A tried and tested route to enlightenment regarding themselves, their world and their relationships with God.

The pilgrim’s visceral focus can also push away accretions of language church people might use to build walls — a paring back that leads to deeper connections with the sacred.

On the heels of the recent tsunami in Japan and floods in Queensland and elsewhere, the notion of “living water” has a matrix of meaning to explore and interrogate.

Climate change, water equity and the destructive potential of water due to its presence or absence provide urgent discussion points to bring to the (water) table.

But before you get carried away with these significant issues, ask yourself two prior questions: Do you yearn for living water? Might pilgrimage help you find it?

The President and our Moderator are asking you to participate.

We are “a pilgrim people” after all.

And that means you.

Marjorie Lewis-Jones



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