Today I find myself in the Holy Land—on a pilgrimage. This is not my first pilgrimage, nor, do I suspect, will it be my last. Moreover, this is my 5th or 6th time visiting many of the sites on this trip. Yet, each visit is a little different. Each visit challenges and rewards me in unexpected ways.
This time I have the luxury and challenge of not being the group leader. I can enter into the visit as a true pilgrim.
What does it mean to be a pilgrim?
As we set off yesterday morning our group leader read to us Macrina Wiederkehr’s wonderful poem “Tourist or Pilgrim?” Several lines in her poem touched me and helped me understand the opportunity and difficulty of being a pilgrim.
To be a pilgrim means to be on the move, slowly,
To notice your luggage becoming lighter,
To seek for treasures that do not rust
To be comfortable with your heart’s questions,
To be moving toward the Holy Ground of home with empty hands and bare feet.
The transformation that Wiederkehr describes is profound. One will be forever changed if one is to be the kind of pilgrim that she describes.
It is not easy to be on the move slowly. We are impatient.
It is not easy to let go of our luggage. We accumulate our resentments.
It is not easy to seek for treasures that do not rust. Our culture calls us to acquire ever more.
It is not easy to be comfortable with one’s heart’s questions. We are constantly on the hunt for closure and resolution.
It is not easy to move towards Holy Ground with empty hands and bare feet. We put on all kinds of armor to shield us from hurt.
For me, pilgrimage is also about fear. What will I encounter? Who will I meet? What will I learn about myself?
The first site that we visited on our pilgrimage was The Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, built over the site traditionally remembered as the Virgin Mary’s home. There we read Luke’s account of Gabriel’s visit to Mary. And what does Gabriel say to Mary? “Do not be afraid…”
This morning we started the day with a Celebration of the Eucharist on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The reading, also from Luke, was the account of Jesus instructing his disciples on how to fish and become catchers of people. And what does Jesus say? “Do not be afraid…”
So as I set out on this pilgrimage, I will endeavor to let go of impatience. I will try to forgive. I will look for spiritual gifts and eschew the temporal. I will be content with mystery. I will come to the experience undefended. And most of all, I will try not to be afraid.