Stepping Out…to Step in More Deeply

Why does a person participate in a spiritual pilgrimage? Is it a desire for knowledge… or a vacation with friends? My heart has been drawn to pilgrimage for a long time.  Choosing to travel for the purpose of drawing closer to God is quite different than being in a “tour group” or on a “vacation cruise.” In our everyday lives, we tend to function on automatic pilot. We are keenly aware of everyone’s expectations of us as employees, parents, spouses, or friends. When we choose to journey with God as our guide, we release control of our agendas.

While traveling with Shalem to Assisi, Italy, “in the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Clare,” twenty pilgrims pushed the pause button on their lives and opened their hearts to witness the history of the Franciscan brothers and Poor Clares sisterhood in community with people who were thirsting for a deeper drink of God’s grace. This is called “Soul Work.”

Although we had a detailed agenda of what we were doing and where we were going each day, every pilgrim showed up with a unique “story” and what each one of us saw, heard, tasted, sensed, and gleaned was as personal as our fingerprints.  Throughout the journey, we gathered in smaller Pilgrim Circles to share something of what God was revealing within us and were asked to listen prayerfully without offering advice or editorial commentary on anyone else’s sharing. We took a few minutes of silence before and after we heard each person’s words to hold them in God’s presence.

God spoke to me through birds singing, wind blowing through the trees, and light shining on blooming spring flowers. God also spoke through conversations with the Franciscan sisters at the House of Hospitality who served our meals and cleaned our rooms during our stay in Assisi. God spoke to me through the artwork displayed in the numerous basilicas we visited and during English worship services we attended. God spoke to me through sister and brother pilgrims on our shared journey as we hiked up mountains and crossed streams.

What sparkled most for me as I pondered the Franciscan cross, which deeply touched St. Francis on his spiritual journey, was that I too can let go of worldly attachments to become a vessel of God’s grace in a world of hate. The face of Jesus on the cross which Francis pondered was still alive, but Jesus’ eyes were downcast and disappointed, as his hands and feet were nailed to the wooden cross.  Jesus’ outstretched arms also revealed to me his willingness to endure the misguided violence turned towards him, so that he could become a vessel of God’s unconditional love and life. God’s love has the last word.  On the Franciscan cross I am describing, there is also a small picture above the cross of a resurrected, dancing Jesus, and a hand reaching out to pilgrims who courageously choose to join this journey of suffering love.

Photo Credit: Damiano Cross, unknown Umbrian artist, c. 1100, Basilica of Saint Clare, Assisi, Italy

October 10, 2023 by Susan Hudson 3 Comments
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Linda Longmire
Linda Longmire
8 months ago

Thank you Susan for taking me back to my own experience of the pilgrimage to Assisi with Shalem . The Cross you focused on was a particularly meaningful visual and real presence that was the Spirit ALIVE and active in me and those around me. And Shalem people know how to do everything so very well …taking us deeper through loving pauses . Your description was wonderful .

Susan Hudson
Susan Hudson
8 months ago
Reply to  Linda Longmire

Thank you so much, Linda, for your words of affirmation! May the Spirit continue to lead us!!!

Gary DeKrey
Gary DeKrey
7 months ago

Thank you, Susan. I appreciate your beautiful encapsulation of our Assisi pilgrimage, an event that had such a deep impact on all of us. Your thoughts have helped me to retrieve that experience and enjoy it in new ways. The San Damiano cross has endless meanings! Blessings as you continue your spiritual journey.


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