To become a pilgrim is to undertake a particular kind of journey, a sacred journey which involves both inner and outer dimensions. Among the varied reasons people give for deciding to take such a step, it is often possible to discern a sort of longing – a desire for something different, for something deeper than the everyday.
Within our increasingly secular culture, many still seek spiritual sustenance as they try and negotiate the challenges of life. For some, there appears to be a crisis of hope and they look for purpose and direction in a rapidly changing scene. In the midst of busy mobile lives, taking time and space to find yourself remains an attractive proposition, which the relative anonymity of a pilgrim journey can provide.
For believers, pilgrimage is also about rediscovering how the stories of our lives fit into a wider context. It is about re-connecting with the wider Christian story, which is so deeply embedded in our history and culture. As we walk in the footsteps of pilgrims from earlier times, we may find ourselves caught up in their experience and the perennial invitation to journey again with our travelling God.
Optional starter questions:
- As we set out on our journey through Lent, for what do we long?
- What or who is calling us to leave the normal pattern of our days for a while and pay attention to the meaning and purpose of our lives?
- In response, how shall I make time and space to journey again with our travelling God?
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.
Luke 4: 1-2
WEEK ONE: THE OPEN ROAD
Brendan’s Prayer on the Mountain
Shall I abandon, O King of Mysteries,
the soft comforts of home?
Shall I turn my back on my native land,
and my face towards the sea?
Shall I put myself wholly at the mercy of God,
without silver, without a horse,
without fame or honour?
Shall I throw myself wholly on the King of Kings,
without sword or shield, without food and drink,
without a bed to lie on?
Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land,
placing myself under Christ’s yoke?
Shall I pour out my heart to him,
confessing my manifold sins and begging for forgiveness,
tears streaming down my cheeks?
Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach,
a record of my final prayer in my native land?
Shall I suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict?
Shall I take my tiny coracle across the wide sparkling ocean?
O King of the Glorious Heaven,
Shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?
O Christ, will you help me on the wild waves?
The road is not a line between places; it is a place between places, a place of its own. You cannot understand the ravishments of the road unless you overcome the logistical way of looking at things, which is perhaps the most powerful impediment that our hustling way of life puts in the way of experience. Since we cling to a mainly instrumental view of the road, we have forgotten how to be travelers and we are tourists instead, sitting still before the window and watching the world speed past, when in fact we are the ones who are speeding and it is the world that is still, for those who possess the capacity for stillness.
We are too enamoured of destinations. We hunger too much for arrival. We treat the road as an interval between meanings, an interregnum between dispensations, and so we are blinded to the richness of meanings and dispensations in the road itself. If departure is the past and arrival is the future, then the road is the present, and there is nothing more spiritually difficult, or spiritually rewarding, than learning to live significantly in the present. This is accomplished by a schooling in transience, and the road is such a school.
Almost as powerfully as the sea and the sky, the road is an emblem of immensity: the horizon into which it disappears is the promise of a release, which is the promise of a horizon, which is the promise of a release. From the stretch of even the most ordinary road, you may infer a suggestion of infinity.
‘The Art of Wandering’
The object of pilgrimage is not rest and recreation – to get away from it all. To set out on a pilgrimage is to throw down a challenge to everyday life. Nothing matters now but this adventure. Travelers jostle each other to board the train where they crowd together for a journey that may last several days. After that there is a stony road to climb on foot – a rough, wild path in a landscape where everything is new. The naked glitter of the sacred mountain stirs the imagination; the adventure of self-conquest has begun. Specifics may differ, but the substance is always the same.
Travel brings a special kind of wisdom if one is open to it. At home or abroad, things of the world pull us toward them with such gravitational force that, if we are not alert our entire lives, we can be sucked into their outwardness. Attentive travel helps us to see this, because the continually changing scene helps us to see through the world’s pretensions.
foreword to ‘The Art of Pilgrimage’
by Phil Cousineau
To the Pilgrim
You were born for the road.
You have a meeting to keep.
Where? With whom?
Perhaps with yourself.
Your steps will be your words –
The road your song,
the weariness your prayers.
And at the end
your silence will speak to you.
Alone, or with others –
but get out of yourself!
You have created rivals –
you will find companions.
You envisaged enemies –
you will find brothers and sisters.
Your head does not know
where your feet are leading your heart.
You were born for the road –
the pilgrim’s road.
Someone is coming to meet you –
is seeking you
in the shrine at the end of the road –
in the shrine in the depths of your heart.
He is your peace.
He is your joy!
Go! God already walks with you!
We believe in God
the maker and shaper of our pathways;
who sent Jesus to show us the narrow way,
and who is the beginning and end of our travelling.
We believe in Jesus Christ
the sharer of our flesh;
who entered and experienced the human journey,
and who walks beside us on the road.
We believe in the Holy Spirit
the midwife and nurturer of our potential;
who drove Jesus out into the desert,
and who calls us now to cast off from the shore.
We believe in Father, Son and Spirit
the shaper, sharer and stirrer of our journeys;
and we recommit ourselves
to following their Way.
‘Bare Feet and Buttercups’
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All images istock except where indicated.
Luke 4 – Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘The road is not a line’ – Leon Wieseltier (The Art of Wandering, permission sought)
‘The object of pilgrimage…’ – (material excerpted from the book The Art of Pilgrimage © 1998 by Phil Cousineau, used with permission from Red Wheel/Weiser LLC, Newburyport, MA, www.redweiser.com)
‘Affirmation’ – Pat Bennett (in Bare Feet and Buttercups, ed Ruth Burgess, Wild Goose Publications, 2008)
SET OUT ON THE PILGRIMAGE
Welcome to the 2016 CTBI Lent course
The CTBI Lent Course 2016 represents a departure in style and format from that offered in previous years. Each week, we are invited to gather in groups for reflection and spiritual conversation around a series of themes drawn from the overarching title of Pilgrimage’. The idea is that we embark on a spiritual journey through Lent, both alone and in company, sharing with others our personal reflections, stories and insights.
The notion of ‘Pilgrimage’ is presented in the form of collections of sayings, images, wisdom and prayers from a variety of sources, which are gathered into a pack of seven conversation booklets suitable for personal and group use. Each member of a group will need their own copy of the pack, which will be used as a personal journal.
The Open Road
Where the invitation is to undertake a particular kind of journey, a sacred journey which involves both inner and outer dimensions. As we set out, what is our desire, or longing?
GO TO WEEK ONE
Taking and Leaving
Focus on choice. How do we choose what to keep, what we require for inner vitality and balance, and what to leave behind, things which may once have helped us but we now find burdensome and obstructive?
GO TO WEEK TWO
Where the invitation is to become more attentive to our surroundings Where are the signs of God’s presence around us? How do we stay open to new insights?
GO TO WEEK THREE
Alone and Together
Focuses on our relationships with others. In our search for ‘unity in diversity’, how do we learn from ‘the other’? What does it mean to be separate yet ‘one’?
GO TO WEEK FOUR
Living with Uncertainty
Where we think of times of alienation and separation that are common to us all. How do we live with unanswered questions? From where do we find hope?
GO TO WEEK FIVE
Where we are invited to contemplate the mystery of God at the heart of the Christian experience. Each step on the journey illuminates more questions, for example: what is the nature of suffering?
GO TO WEEK SIX
When we contemplate the significance of our pilgrim journey for the future. What people, networks, ideas, insights have we discovered that will continue to inspire us?
GO TO WEEK SEVEN
Whilst you may wish to print out the contents of these pages, we suggest you will find it more useful and less costly to purchase copies of the ‘Pilgrimage’ pack, which is recommended for conversation group settings and individual use.