Reflections on the Christian Life as Pilgrimage
Scriptures of Pilgrimage
Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves." So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sar'ai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions which they had gathered, and the persons that they had gotten in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, "To your descendants I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. Thence he removed to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb. Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.
Psalm 84.5-12 (BCP)
5 Those who go through the desolate valley will find it
a place of springs, *
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.
6 They will climb from height to height, *
and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.
7 Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; *
hearken, O God of Jacob.
8 Behold our defender, O God; *
and look upon the face of your Anointed.
9 For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, *
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.
10 For the Lord God is both sun and shield; *
he will give grace and glory;
11 No good thing will the Lord withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.
12 O Lord of hosts, *
happy are they who put their trust in you!
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he rose and followed him.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Prayers of Pilgrimage
The Prayer of Boethius (c. 480-524)
O Father, give the spirit power to climb
To the fountain of all light, and be purified.
Break through the mists of earth, the weight of the clod,
Shine forth in splendour, Thou that art calm weather,
And quiet resting place for faithful souls.
To see Thee is the end and the beginning,
Thou carriest us, and Thou doest go before,
Thou art the journey, and the journeys end.
The Oxford Book of Prayers
Blessing at the Beginning of a Pilgrimage
Father, you have called us to a pilgrimage of faith for this day. The light of your truth summons us, and the call of faith will be a constant challenge on our journey. We give thanks for the desire to seek you; we give thanks for voices from the past that offer guidance; for signposts pointing to the next stage; for companions who share the journey; for footsteps in the sand of pilgrims before us; and for the conviction that, unseen but not unknown, you are with us and in us by Your Spirit. Father, keep us faithful to the vision, and steadfast on our pilgrimage so that the distant goal may become a reality, and faith at last lead to sight in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
God at Every Gate, pg. 16 –17(for Bibliography see Recommended Reading below)
Prayer of the Cowley Fathers
Lord Jesus Christ, you said to Your Apostles, “come apart into a desert place and rest awhile,” for there were many coming and going. Grant to us, your servants that we may rest awhile at this present time with you. Grant that we may so seek You whom our souls desire to love, that we may find you and be found of you. And grant such love and such wisdom to accompany the words which shall be spoken in Your name that they may not fall to the ground but may be helpful in leading us on through the toils of our pilgrimage to that place that remains for the Kingdom of God. Where nevertheless they rest not day and night from Your perfect service who with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit live and reign one God now and forever. Amen.
Fr. Benson – Cowley Fathers / The Brotherhood of St. John the Evangelist
Poetry of Pilgrimage
The Four Quartets
East Coker I, III, & V
“In my beginning is my end…”
“In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.”
Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning…”
Little Gidding, V
“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.”
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
All My Life
All my life I had thought
I was drowning,
That it was my life
I was saving,
But when you burst into my heart
Like a spear of flames,
Nothing remained of me.
And what I thought I had been saving
Your breath, like dew,
With tiny fingers, moistened
The invisible voice
Of you in me,
I in you.
How can this be?
You give me this song
When everything else in me is gone.
Your love continuing to burn
A coal of caverns in my chest,
A place where great oceans meet,
Where there is no rest for me—
And I find you, sweet Lord,
Holding the great seas together
In the fire of your untiring,
All the Desire
I awoke from a nap and it was all there—
All the desire, all the knowing you.
The reach that pulls me towards you,
As if there has been nothing in the way
All these years.
I heard all the words
Speaking of yearning,
Describing the life of the heart
When you are gone.
When you seem to be gone.
All the desire is intact.
The light of your unseen face
Has been burning away the flesh of my life
To reveal what is left—
The core of fire in me
That you keep burning
Turning into an ember of your life.
I had thought things would be clear now,
That I would know some truth,
Expecting the house inside,
The layers of cluttered memory,
To reveal the objects of a lived life,
Expecting that the objects would reveal
When I awoke from my nap,
It was all gone—
All the decoration.
The bare walls of my inner life
Stared back at me,
And the words tumbled out
Faster than I could write.
With only one thing to say:
You, you, you.
Did you intend to wrap
Your arms around me
And give me everything I ever wanted?
I am ravaged,
I am destroyed.
I can no longer think.
Did you come to me so that
I would finally lose everything
Walk away from my comfortable rooms—
Now left only with my desire for you?
Is life such a peculiar dream,
I know now.
You are fire,
Consuming everything between us
By the flames of your passion.
Every object, every memory
That separates me from you
You eagerly devour—
Until we stand
Blackened with soot,
When I must finally say
Quotes on Pilgrimage
From Thomas Merton
“Looking for God is like seeing a path in a field of snow; if there is no path and you are looking for one, walk across it and there is your path.”
From the Rule of St. Benedict
“Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received.”
From John Wesley
“It is a blessed thing to have fellow travelers to the New Jerusalem. If you cannot find any you must make them, for none can travel the road alone.”
A Story Whose Source I Have Now Forgotten (apologies)
“In the last century, a tourist from the States visited the famous Polish rabbi, Hofetz Chaim. He was astonished to see that the rabbi’s home was only a simple room filled with books. The only furniture was a table and a bench.
‘Rabbi, where is your furniture?’ asked the tourist.
“Where is yours?’ said Hofetz.
‘Mine? But I’m passing through. I’m only a visitor here.’
So am I.” said Hofetz.”
From Egeria: The Diary of a Pilgrimage, pg. 18-19 (for Bibliography see Recommended Reading below)
“Each of the journeys undertaken by Egeria was a true pilgrimage motivated by a specific religious objective. The relationship of man to God in both the Old and the New Testament is generally existentialized in a particular historical site, and the religious pilgrim wishes to realize anew, for himself and in his own time, the truths of faith commemorated in a specific place. With increasing frequency throughout the fourth century, men and women from both the Greek and Latin worlds traveled eastward to look upon the sites of the Nativity, the Mission, the Passion, and the Resurrection of Christ, and to visit the numerous churches and shrines built since Constantine’s day. Except insofar as those scriptural events were relived in the ritual of the liturgical year that Egeria witnessed in Jerusalem and its environs, these primary objectives of the Christian pilgrim are not mentioned in the extant text of the Diary… The facts Egeria presents in recounting her journeys are always subordinate and incidental to her central purpose, which was to vivify and confirm her faith in the truths of Scripture through personal contact with those places marked by the action of God on man, and to meet and pray in the company of those who she considered best exemplified the Christian life…”
Recommended Reading on Pilgrimage
A Desert in the Ocean, by David Adam, Paulist Press, Mahwah, N.J., 2000
Egeria: The Diary of a Pilgrimage, translated by George E. Gingras, Ph.D., Newman Press, New York, N.Y., 1970
Every Earthly Blessing: Celebrating a Spirituality of Creation – Section I, The Dedicated Life, by Esther de Waal, Servant Publications, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1991
Every Pilgrim’s Guide to Celtic Britain and Ireland, by Andrew Jones, Ligouri Publications, Ligouri, Missouri, 2002
God at Every Gate: Prayer and Blessings for Pilgrims, by Brendan O’Malley, Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, PA. 2000
Holy Ground – Chapter2, Holy Boy, Holy Journey, by Deborah K. Cronin, Upper Room Books, Nashville, Tennessee, 1999
Invitation to a Journey – Chapter 8, The Classical Christian Pilgrimage, by M. Robert Mulhollnad Jr., InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1993
On Pilgrimage, by Douglas Vest, Cowley Publications, Boston, MA., 1998
The Oxford Book of Prayer, by George Appleton, Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K., 2002
Return to the Desert, by David Praill, Fount Paperbacks, London, U.K., 1995
The Road to Canterbury, by Shirley Du Boulay, Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, PA., 1994
Sea Road of the Saints, by John Marsden, Floris Books, Edinburgh, U.K., 1995
Soulfaring: Celtic Pilgrimage Then and Now, by Cintra Pemberton O.S.H., Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, PA. 1999