The Lost Art of Pilgrimage

One woman's experience with the Fifth Gospel, and what it means for the rest of us
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Pilgrimage gives us the perspective of history.

Context

Pilgrimage brings context to our creeds. St. Jerome called the Holy Land the "fifth gospel." He saw the land itself as another revelation of Christ. Because of my study of this "fifth gospel," I am now in love with Jesus more than ever. Our faith is not tied to a particular place, but I believe that certain environments are more conducive to experiencing Christ. Perhaps he was able to do things in my life in Jerusalem that would have been impossible with feet firmly planted at home in Washington, D.C.

I felt like Christ took me by the hand to personally show me the places of his life. I will never again read the verse "And Jesus went to Galilee" as merely a transitional verse for a Scriptural scene change. Now, I experience that trip with him—aware of the distance, sights, and sounds.

My mind will be forever captive to the images of the land that Jesus called home. I cannot sing about the "blood spilled for me" without feeling the cold bedrock of Golgotha. I cannot read about his rejection without remembering the spit and insults hurled against me as I carried the cross along the Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross). I cannot read the account of Peter's denial of Christ without hearing in my head once again the cock crowing during the first few steps along that road.

Pilgrimage moves our creeds from an intellectual framework to a description of something we have physically touched and a life we have lived. It draws us into a deeper understanding of Christ and the life to which he has called us.

Community

Pilgrimage gives us a new understanding of community. I have always found great value in exploring other denominational traditions, because they stretch me and spur me to grow. Pilgrimage was a total immersion into the larger Body of Christ. It was baptism.

We are all different parts and we all need each other, just as Paul says in Ephesians. Despite our theological, cultural, and intellectual differences, our diverse team shared the same spiritual path for two weeks. We ate together and swam in the Sea of Galilee together. We argued and hurt one another and forgave and prayed with one another. We shared laughter and tears. We saw Christ together and became the Body of Christ as we worshipped together.

Now, when I think of Episcopalians, Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Urban Ministries, I no longer think of a particular creed, theological position, strength, or weakness. Instead, I see the faces of people who love Christ and shaped my spiritual development.

At the Catalyst 2005 Conference, Bill Hybels said, "Most twenty-somethings are impressed with the concept of community, but they are completely incapable of living it." Pilgrimage baptizes us into Christian community in its purest sense.

Authenticity

Discipleship does not happen in the classroom. It happens in the trenches. Pilgrimage breaks down the mirage of Sunday morning Christianity and exposes the raw elements of our faith. In Genesis 32:22-31, Jacob wrestled with God. He named the place "Peniel," meaning "face of God." He came face-to-face with God and walked away with a limp.

For two weeks, I wrestled with God on pilgrimage. Sometimes it was fun, like a father wrestling with a child. Other times, it was a painful struggle. Both types of wrestling are good.

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