‘Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage.’ (Psalm 84:5 NKJV)
For as long as humans have walked, they have been on pilgrimage. There are as many reasons as there are pilgrims. And you don’t have to be religious to go on pilgrimage! The Greeks made these quests, as did the Israelites, the Mayans, and the Chinese. Jesus hailed these journeys. These wanderings have been around forever. Pilgrims made them before writing was invented. Seekers follow them today.
Pilgrimage has become important in my life this year as I felt the need for such an experience. At the heart of this longing and desire lay the hope that by travelling to a special place, I might be changed and transformed. But for me my pilgrimage was an inward journey. It has become central to how I have tried to understand my spiritual life in this season.
My journey has been undertaken not from duty or necessity but from a passionate inner desire, a journey into the unknown, a journey that is essentially an inner journey to the true self which is in Christ, a journey that must be undertaken, a journey that brings me closer to God.
A pilgrimage is a journey of spiritual significance.
Traditionally, the journey involved a movement outward across deserts up mountain, in order to seek God who is beyond us. Yet, within us we already possess all we need. God is present at the centre of our being, so there is no reason to search elsewhere. We are already at home, but many do not realise it. Our task, then, is to wake up to Christ calling. The treasure within awaits our attention.
To embrace this journey fully, we need to see God as a friend, but, more than this, an intimate friend who knows us more than we know ourselves. This intimacy invites us beyond a sporadic involvement. We are to be in the presence of our friend and experience the joy and giftedness of this relationship continually.
I have a deep desire to experience God, not as a distant figure, but as a consistent presence of divine love, a friend who is near and available. I want to be open to letting the Spirit draw me beyond thinking about God and into the experience of God’s presence.
So how did I prepare for this journey?
- The starting point for my journey was to have a willingness to seek God’s face – to gaze upon His beauty and respond to His unfailing love and grace. I discovered that by returning His loving gaze and looking unto God, He always looks unto me.
- Prayer! Not as a series of fitful stops and starts but rather continuous with times of rest and times of fertile growth.
- I had to give myself the opportunity to be emotionally honest and look at my life and my relationship with God at the present moment. We reflect on many things but rarely on our inner life and our relationship with Christ.
- Trust – the expression of divine love – has always been active in my life, like a thread tugging at me from the beginning, though I may not have been aware of it. Becoming more conscious of this thread of love is one of the most powerful ways to pray.
- Search my own history and be alert to all such signs of grace; see how these take the form of my life story. Returning to this thread and recalling examples from it keep me from becoming lost when we sense God’s loving presence.
My journey then, is primarily focused on one thing alone: intimacy with God. As a result, the journey of prayer never loses momentum even with my insecurities and setbacks but is continuous with a certain rhythm. Recall that Jesus himself lived out of an ongoing rhythm of prayers, withdrawing from the crowds at times to be alone with his Father and then sharing this communion in his ministry.
The inward journey does not halt when we reach a certain stage. As pilgrims we are meant for ongoing transformation. We can no longer remain the person we once were because with each step, we are meant to awaken to greater self-knowledge.
We are all invited on a pilgrimage into the depths of our being. Do not let anyone deceive you by showing you a road other than that of prayer. As we move inward, our lives will gravitate around this centre and the result is a sense of wholeness and inner peace.
We may pass from exterior to interior with doors reopening in revelation and closing in hiddenness. We may even uncover secrets in unlikely places.
“O God bless the step that I am taking and bless the soft earth beneath my feet”
(Old Irish Prayer)