Pilgrimage: The Way of the Heart
Article by Carole Crumley (in January 2017 eNews)
This past month, it seems that everything in my life has been in motion. Trips to stores, shops, the post office have multiplied exponentially. Precious visits to family and friends have kept us on the road.
Christmas scripture readings have magnified this sense of movement. A young couple progresses slowly towards Bethlehem; a child is born; angelic visitors bring messages; shepherds leave their flocks to” go and see”; travelers come from afar following a star; a young family escapes sure death fleeing for their lives to take refuge in Egypt.
Add to this, our collective end of the year hoopla and inauguration fever. Hopes and fears converge daily in new configurations. It may seem strange that, in this vortex of endless, ceaseless movement, my thoughts have turned to pilgrimage, more movement, as the spiritual practice that makes the most sense for me in the year ahead. Pilgrimage most often involves leaving home. Yet it is not an escape from the realities of daily living. Pilgrimage offers grounding and the possibility of anchoring our lives even more steadily in God’s grace.
Many years ago, author and retreat leader Fr. Basil Pennington and I were discussing contemplative prayer. He described contemplative prayer as “an inner pilgrimage.” His use of the word “pilgrimage” caught my attention. It is a journey of intention, he said, leading towards the true self in God. We went on to discuss how an intentional pilgrimage, the outward journey, is the perfect corollary to the inner journey.
Both are journeys of the heart. Both inevitably require letting go, un-layering, relinquishing the false self and opening to the true self in God. No wonder pilgrimage is a spiritual discipline, revered and practiced by every major religion. But is it right for you in this new year? Here are some things to consider.
Do you have an inward yearning? This might be a small inkling or a tiny nudge. Or it could seem as startling as words written with lipstick on the mirror. Is there an inner desire to seek the more? It might not be possible to name exactly what the “more” is. Yet this yearning can’t be ignored. It is like a calling, and the heart knows its truth. Is there an inner prompting that is trying to get your attention?
One of the gifts of pilgrimage is finding community. One never prays or journeys alone. There is an exquisite sense of drawing from the wellspring of spiritual resources left by previous generations while, at the same time, leaving one’s own gift of prayer for those who will come after. Can your heart embrace such an expansive community?
Setting out on a journey requires leaving behind the roles, routine, anxieties, worries and relationships of our lives. Without these normal constraints, pilgrims begin to notice an inner freedom. One may see more clearly the movement of the Spirit, the invitations that are pouring down and the amazing possibilities hidden in every moment. This inner freedom allows flexibility, turning around, reversing steps, taking detours. It invites a willingness to follow the direct, immediate guidance of the Spirit. Does your spiritual heart rejoice at the thought of such freedom?
Those who have given their lives/hearts to deepening in God will find the fruits of that deepening flowing out to others. The journey always leads home where what has been received can be offered to others for their spiritual nurture and encouragement. And so the blessing of pilgrimage comes back to friends, family, community, relationships, to caring action on behalf of others. Each action contributes to the peace and wellbeing of all.
In this new year, is a pilgrimage right for you? Let your spiritual heart guide the way. It is the only compass you need.