Do you feel like a wanderer? Like someone who is journeying into the unknown–even though that unknown is interior and deep and not really far from home? You’re not alone. I think that we might be pilgrims at heart. And it’s not just you and me.
Others have traveled this road before us and remind us that living by faith doesn’t mean seeing clearly:
Thomas Merton’s prayer “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me,” is a prayer for pilgrims like us.
Madeleine L’Engle reminds us that this journey to God is through Love: “Love, which trusts God so implicitly despite the cloud (and is not the cloud a sign of God?), that it is brave enough to ask questions, no matter how fearful.”
And in his book The Great Work of Your Life, Stephen Cope writes: “You will continue to be guided as you take action. Be aware that you are led by faith and not by sight, and that the whole process may be shrouded in darkness. Learn to feel your way along.”
See, we’re not the only ones learning to feel our way along an unknown, seemingly uncharted path. Fog seems to accompany the pilgrim’s path.
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Recently, I found myself driving across town in a heavy, thick fog that forced me to pay close attention. I’d catch sight of the red lights with just enough time to stop. I needed my eyes to stay open and focused. I needed to drive slowly. To pay attention to the step right in front of me (in van-speak, of course). I could see just where I needed to go but not any farther. Fog shrouded this everyday route in beauty and mystery.
We ascended a hill; and as we neared the top, the fog lifted into a moment of clarity and sight. It was like a huge breath of fresh air before we plunged back into the fog.
Yes. This seems to be the way that God and I move together.
I am thankful for those moments of clarity and the energy that they bring. But I am also thankful for the slow and steady progress that happens in the fog. Plunging back into the fog keeps me reliant on listening and on paying attention. This seems to be the way of the pilgrim’s heart.
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This winter, my imagination was captured by Jan Richardson’s imagery of the pilgrim. If you aren’t familiar with Jan Richardson, please check out her words and art–they are good for the soul. These lines from her blessing For Those Who Have to Travel Far in her book Circle of Grace resonated deeply with me:
“There is nothing
but to go,
and by going
take the vows
the pilgrim takes:
to be faithful to
the next step;
to rely on more
than the map;
to heed the signposts
of intuition and dream;
to follow the star
that only you will recognize;
to keep an open eye
for the wonders that
attend the path;
to press on
beyond what would
tempt you from
While these words were still wending their way through my heart, a friend shared a reflection about pilgrim coats from Jan Richardson’s advent series, The Advent Door:
“‘Pilgrim coats’ are worn by pilgrims who are on sacred journeys over foreign terrain they may find unsettling. When they come to a new resting place on the journey, like the pilgrims climbing through mountains in Nepal to go from one monastery to another, they get a word or phrase stamped on their coats. So their pilgrim coat represents their whole journey.”
See, we are not the only pilgrims. We are in good company.
The idea of a pilgrim coat excited me. I’ve been collecting words for the last few years. For me, these breaks in the fog are like the resting places Jan Richardson talks about–this is where the words find me. These are the words that push me forward and become a part of me. These words are like clues or invitations. Signposts indicating my next step. Words like: Move into your heart. Be slow. Be still. Be spacious. Open. Invitation. Release. Receive. Trust. Belong in your feet. Take your place. Be. These words describe my journey. I look forward finding my next words.
What are the words that describe your journey? What would your pilgrim coat look like?
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This foggy, pilgrim journey requires a quiet courage.
Quiet courage listens with wide open heart, eyes, ears, and hands.
Quiet courage trusts the voice that speaks deep in the center of your soul–the voice that nudges and whispers the way forward.
Quiet courage lets go of the pieces that no longer fit and releases that which holds you back.
Quiet courage faces the shadows–the fear, anxiety, hurt, and anger that surface every so often. Quiet courage asks “Why?” Notices. Pays attention. It doesn’t deny, push away or ignore the hard.
Quiet courage reaches out. Comes out of hiding.
Quiet courage puts one foot in front of the other.
May you find courage for your pilgrim path. May you find good company. And most of all, may you find yourself enfolded in God’s presence before you, behind you, within you, and around you each slow step of your way.