Esther Birtwistle offers a reflection on pilgrimage
This article was published in the January to April 2021 issue of Rapport magazine.
‘True pilgrimage is about the opening of our eyes, our ears and our hearts, not simply about travelling. It has to do with relationships rather than with destinations; it involves seeing this world as God’s world, and the people in it – including ourselves – as people loved by God. Pilgrimage is more about the heart than the soles of the feet!’The Awesome Journey, life’s pilgrimage by David Adam
Let’s consider four aspects of Pilgrimage: what, how, who and where.
What we carry
In 2015 I walked the Camino de Santiago following an ancient pilgrim route from St Jean Pied de Port in southwest France to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. I quickly got into a daily routine of walking, getting food and drink and finding somewhere to stay. All I had with me was what I could carry in my rucksack. Life was stripped back to the bare essentials.
Staying overnight in hostels, there was often piles of stuff – clothes, toiletries, books – things pilgrims had thought necessary but then realised that their rucksacks were too heavy. They risked injury and not being able to complete their journey – they needed to leave stuff behind.
On my pilgrimage I carried emotional baggage – anger, pain and unforgiveness.
Jesus says: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)
What do you carry that is weighing you down?
How we journey
On my journey I soon realised that it would be very easy to daydream my way through and it bothered me that I would suddenly find myself at my destination and look back and wonder what it was all about.
One day as I was walking, I sensed a simple invitation from God: ‘walk with Me’. It wasn’t a demand. For many years I had been scared of God and I struggled to trust Him. Later, on my journey I reached a point of telling God that the most I could do was to trust Him for one day at a time. Each day, just for today.
I carried with me a stone to lay down at the iron cross on the highest point of the Camino. It was only in the last two kilometres as I approached the cross that I knew what my stone really meant. For me the laying down of my stone at the cross was the laying down of myself. I reached the point of complete surrender to God and trust in Him.
‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.’ (Isaiah 43:18–19)
How is your journey? Do you journey in fear or in trust?
Who we journey with
Jesus said: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
(John 13 34-35)
On our pilgrimage of life we meet many people along the way. They come into our lives and they go out of our lives, travelling with us for varying periods of time. Some we know briefly, others we may know our whole life. We have family, friends, and acquaintances. Who are you journeying with and who do you carry in your heart? We will all have friends and family who don’t know God and we long for them to receive His love and His life. Imagine what difference it would make if they knew God.
Jesus said: “And I, when I am lifted up I will draw all people to myself.”
Who are you journeying with? Who do you ask God to draw to Himself, to enfold in His love and care?
Where we are going
A pilgrimage is not about wandering aimlessly – the destination is clear and we follow the waymarkers. The old cliché says it’s about the journey not the destination. Our life pilgrimage is about both. The what, the how and the who of our journey are so important – but so is the where. Pilgrimage is about the heart.
Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven … For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
Where is your treasure?
As you journey on your life’s pilgrimage, be aware of God’s invitation to you. He says, come for a walk with Me …
Lee Abbey Friends Secretary