This year’s theme is “The Life…” Today we continue that theme with…..
The Life of the Pilgrim
Rev. Ben Brown is the Minister of Youth at First Baptist Church in Waynesboro, Va. Ben is a native of Virginia and has degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University and BTSR. He is married to Courtney, and they enjoy running, hiking, laughing, and spending time with family and friends. Ben is obsessed with VCU basketball and dreams of their return run to the Final Four.
A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to join several other pastors, lay people, and seminarians in traveling to Israel for a pilgrimage experience. When I was in college I minored in religious studies and new that other faith traditions encouraged or mandated a ‘pilgrimage’ to their holy land.
I never deemed this necessary in my own life. After all, we live in the age of the internet. I can see photos and videos and experience a pilgrimage without having to leave my living room.
I was wrong.
During our pilgrimage, we visited Netanya, Tiberias, and Jerusalem and experienced historic Biblical sites. We saw Roman aqueducts and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We sailed across the Sea of Galilee and ate falafel sandwiches.
We purchased olive wood souvenirs from Bethlehem and walked through a 4th century synagogue in Capernaum. Members of our team were baptized in the Jordan River and others raced around the hippodrome in Casarae Maritima. We stood on the Temple Mount and offered prayers for peace at the Western Wall. We rode a cable car to the top of Masada and had lunch in Qumran. We even went swimming in the Dead Sea. We walked the Via Delorosa and shared communion at the Garden Tomb.
These experiences are irreplaceable, and the greatest lesson that I learned was not about the walls of Jerusalem or the view from the Sea of Galilee. Instead, I learned to live the life of a pilgrim.
A pilgrim is one who journeys to a holy place, and I would argue a pilgrim is one who notices the sacred in the ordinary.
Our journey ended, and one in our group sat and read this quote from Thomas Merton allowed on our last night in Israel.
“Our task now is to learn that if we can voyage to the ends of the earth and find ourselves in the aborigine who most differs from ourselves, we will have made a fruitful pilgrimage. That is why pilgrimage is necessary, in some shape or other. Mere sitting at home and meditating on the divine presence is not enough for our time. We have to come to the end of a long journey and see that the stranger we meet there is no other than ourselves – which is the same as saying we find Christ in him (or her).” – Thomas Merton
Beyond our travels to distant lands or obvious sacred spaces, our challenge as pilgrims is to notice the holy places under our feet right now. A pilgrim and follower of Christ can also help to peel away the layers that expose the sacred in ordinary life. Journeying across the world helps, but Merton challenges the pilgrim to change his or her life to meet strangers and encounter the holiness of life by seeing Christ in others.
Notice where you pilgrimage today and find the holy that’s there.