"And now I am going to Jerusalem, drawn there irresistibly by the Holy Spirit, not knowing what awaits me" (Acts 20:22).
Two Presbyterians, an Episcopalian, a Lutheran, a Baptist, and a rapper named SaulPaul board a plane—sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, doesn't it? And yet my travels with this eclectic band of sojourners may have forever changed the trajectory of my own faith journey.
Representing the "emerging church" community, I joined six other clergy at St. George's College for a two-week pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I ignored my friends' concerns, my own fears and doubts, and my mother's desperate pleas to remain safely in the United States. Like Paul, I was irresistibly drawn by the Holy Spirit toward this adventure, but I could never have imagined what would await me and how the journey would impact my life.
The Lost Discipline
Contrary to popular opinion, pilgrimage is not a lost discipline in our Western culture. Every year, thousands of Americans flock to historical sites, make etchings at the Vietnam Wall, and shoot off fireworks to connect with their heritage, destiny, and the men and women who walked freedom's path before them. Americans can feel patriotic anywhere, but something swells in their hearts as they stand at those shrines and connect with their history and with hundreds of others who have experienced the same feeling in that place throughout the years.
Likewise, baseball fans flock to stadium after stadium on a quest to visit every shrine of their favorite national pastime. Similarly, hundreds of people descend upon Graceland every year to visit the grave of a man who changed history by swinging his hips on television.
Pilgrimage is not a lost practice. But as a tool for spiritual formation, it has faded into the background of our faith history. It's viewed as an outdated activity of odd desert monks, thrill-seeking explorers, or misguided Crusaders.
My own journey led me to a new conclusion: pilgrimage should be resurrected and promoted as an important tool for spiritual formation. Specifically, the call of pilgrimage connects with the inner cravings of emerging generations, who know intuitively that the Christian life is a greater journey than a 100-foot walk down the center aisle of a church.
Emerging generations recognize that faith is a life-long journey, and pilgrimage appeals to those yearnings to enter into outward physical expressions of their inward faith journeys. It gives them a sense of history, context, community and authenticity.
Pilgrimage gives meaning to our spiritual journeys by reminding us that we are part of the Story of God and are connected to thousands of events and people across the centuries. In The Place We Call Home, Murray Bodo says, "There is something of time-travel in all pilgrimage."
The stones and pillars of the crumbling ruins of the Holy Land are bursting with stories of faith, betrayal, mystery, and hope. When we walk around the holy places of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee, we are transported back in time and immersed in the story of Scripture.
Emerging generations understand the importance of history and sense they are a part of something larger than themselves. The stones of the sacred places connected me with my roots as a Christ-follower. As I ran my fingers across the Crusader crosses etched into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, I connected with thousands of pilgrims who walked this land before me.
Everywhere I traveled, I was drawn into the massive adventure that God is writing. I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the Story, but I was also able to ponder my role in God's epic, and I can pass my own tales of spiritual journey to the next generation.