The Road Well Travelled
Pilgrimage is big business today. People travel to places of interest and inspiration. Sometimes the motivation is self consciously spiritual, such as pilgrimage to the Holy Land, or Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Sometimes the motivation is more self concerned: the need for a break, the desire for new experiences and perspectives.
Such pilgrimages almost always involve travel – by air, sea or land. Transport tends to be quick and efficient. Airways and motorways make the journey as smooth as possible. The point is to get there and enjoy. In terms of the journey “let the train take the strain”!
I AM THE WAY
Jesus told his disciples “I am the way”. Our modern understanding of pilgrimage can tempt us to see Jesus as the One who can move us smoothly from sin to salvation, from need to fulfilment.
But… in the time when our Lord used this phrase, “the way” was not a dual carriageway or a city to city flight. The “way” was a difficult undertaking. There were few “roads” and even less signposts. Travellers needed to observe the sun, look for clues left by others, and rely upon help from those they met on the journey “The way” was a test, an experience of struggle and searching as one sought to move from one place to another, to reach the proper destination.
People of the Way
Pentecost blesses us with the Spirit of God’s life and power, we are led in the way which is Jesus Christ, the pilgrimage between this life and eternity. Much of this “way” will not be smooth travel so that all we need to think about is the destination and how much we will enjoy being there. Rather, much of this way is an inner search and struggle. To be one of Christ’s pilgrim people is not necessarily to be on the move, much may involve an inner journey, with few marks of progression, and much searching for signs and assistance. To be a pilgrim is the normal spiritual state for a Christian.
From Road to Retreat
That is why, as we begin to turn our minds to the holiday season, we need to remember that besides plans to go to different places for refreshment and inspiration, there is an equally important need to “retreat” inward – to search more carefully for the signs and encouragements our Lord provides for each of us. Pilgrimage should be the normal spiritual state of the Christian blessed with God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus is the way, we need to make space occasionally to pay attention to search and struggle – and then be given confidence to the right direction of travel.
Besides thinking of holidays – plan a retreat: the word in the Christian brochure is not vacation but VOCATION.