One way Trinity Bethlehem explored the theme of pilgrimage over the spring was by reflecting on where we have taken pilgrimages and what God revealed to us along the way. It was our hope that by sharing some of our experiences we could learn more from one another and gain new insights.
As someone who has traveled around the world many times, I found this exercise a challenge. I could have filled out more than a dozen yellow cards on places I’ve been to but when I started to ask how I was a pilgrim to most of these places I’ve visited, I found it hard to answer. There is a difference between being a pilgrim and a tourist.
For me, to be a tourist is to go and discover a place – to taste the foods and see the attractions, to consume all the riches a place has to offer. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is good for so many reasons to gain a deep appreciation for other communities and all they have to offer. On the other hand, a pilgrim’s hope is to gain only one thing – a unique and profound spiritual experience, a meeting with God.
After years of frequent international travel, I began to lose the desire to travel. The exceptions were when I could stay with a family instead of in a hotel. It was through being in relationship with others that I was able to often have those unique spiritual experiences that pilgrims seek. It was in others that I was able to meet God. The hospitality of a family in the Southern Alps, the unconditional love a man in recovery from a life of drug use, and the sacrifice of a young man returning to his family so he could take over the family business – these are just a few examples of the many times I met God on my journey. I am grateful for the times I was able to slow down and allow myself to relate with others instead of rushing from one attraction to the next.
Whether we travel around the world or just around the block, God is waiting to reveal God’s self to us, as long as we slow down enough to be truly present and available.