On Pilgrimage: The Initial Burst

The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in between, and they took great pleasure in doing just that.

Norman Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

Dear Pilgrims,

In my last note I began to talk to you about the nature of pilgrimage, its first and second steps. We recognize our need for something new and then we chart a course. As I write this on the close of Ash Wednesday, I wonder if you are considering your Lenten pilgrimage of sloughing off that which is burden and taking on that which is change. Perhaps you are in consideration of your mortality and weighing the measure of your remaining days. Perhaps you are mindful of only this day and considering what tomorrow will hold. Wherever you are in your pilgrimage, Lenten or season or life, you have experienced the next phase in the journey: the initial burst of energy that comes with beginning anew.

Even in the solemnity of Lent with its slow walk with Jesus toward Jerusalem, its methodical consideration of change and even death, we find a surge that propels us forward. It is often pure exhilaration or sheer determination of will that moves us beyond the staleness of much of life to look forward to what will be. This burst is life-giving, so wonderful and freeing.

My daughter watches a Netflix series called “Spirit Riding Free” about a young girl whose free spirit bucks the prudishness of her surroundings. She is a cowgirl at heart who is determined to be free, and in so doing, she befriends a wild horse with whom she develops a strong kinship bond. The theme song is a lovely musical setting of what I have often experienced in the beginning steps of a new pilgrimage in life: “I’m setting out into the great unknown, I don’t where I’m going, but I’m ready … Nothing’s gonna hold me back.”

There is something so invigorating about beginning a journey. You can see such endless possibility, especially in a pilgrimage in faith. You can see who you are, who you can become, and how you could be transformed in the process. I imagine the disciples felt this same sense of energized freedom when they began following Jesus, an abandon that caused them to throw off their old lives and immediately go. I imagine that it was coupled with uncertainty in their fate, their destination, and the “in-between” along the way. But how free they must have felt!

This Lent I hope that you feel moments of this burst of energy because, ultimately, the momentum that accompanies and often propels us on pilgrimage isn’t confined to the beginning. It finds us throughout the journey and gives us the push we need to move in the direction of Jesus’ beautiful ways of love and peace. When it comes I hope that you will capitalize on its presence and not waste its precious nudging. Ride it into the unknown, fearless, knowing that the Jesus who calls us all into the great journey is leading our way. Savor the surge of hopefulness and the in-between space that populates the walk toward Jerusalem and beyond in resurrection.

As we walk together in Lent I’ll write a few more notes on the nature of pilgrimage. Where is your Lenten pilgrimage leading you? What was your most recent burst of energy like? How are you changing, becoming free?

May the peace of Christ be with you in your journey,

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