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Pilgrimage

by Mary Domb Mikkelson

     Ever notice when you learn a new word you suddenly encounter it everywhere?   Works for cars, too.  I drove a Saturn Vue for nine years and was amazed how many clones it had. Then I bought a Jeep and the freeway was full of Jeeps – little ones, big ones, bigger ones.  Jeeps, not Saturns.  Which brings us to pilgrimages.

     Say what?  “Pilgrimage” was, appropriately, the topic of discussion at United Church of Christ La Mesa’s (UCCLM) Sunday Morning Live! the day after I spent the day  – the entire day – car shopping. 

     What comes to mind when you hear the word?  El Santuario de Chimayó, perhaps?  Mecca?  Lourdes?  The Church of the Holy Sepulcher? Delphi? Knock?  The Wailing Wall?  Graceland?  The Vietnam Veterans Memorial?  Lenin’s Mausoleum?  Do you picture bloody knees?  Castoff crutches?  Travelers crowding into a “tourist mecca,” Venice perhaps?  Thousands of candles and glowsticks lighting the night?  Whirling dervishes?  Worshipers stretched out in full-body prostration?   Revelers in the Samba Parade at Rio de Janerio’s Carnaval?

     Or, as we did in Sunday school, do you picture yourself “crossing boundaries,” cultural ones, perhaps, by sharing experiences with people of different backgrounds and beliefs?  Or walking a labyrinth, discovering previously unknown depths within yourself?

     As explained in a description of the Chartres Labyrinth near Paris (on www.lessons4living.com), it “could be walked as a pilgrimage and/or for repentance.  As a pilgrimage it was a questing, searching journey with the hope of becoming closer to God.  When used for repentance the pilgrims would walk on their knees.  Sometimes this eleven-circuit labyrinth would serve as a substitute for an actual pilgrimage to Jerusalem and as a result came to be called the ‘Chemin de Jerusalem’ or Road of Jerusalem.”

     Hmm…labyrinth…walking…traveling… Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” 

     “Spot on, mate!” as my Yorkshire chums would say. 

     Now, while the good Clemens (Samuel, that is) lived long before “9/11”, I suspect he would have been saddened by the long-lasting and ever-more-intense storm of hatred it has evoked – and would have allowed his mind – and heart – to “travel” more productive paths.  After all, as he once said, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

     What, I wonder, would this man of letters have thought of Florida pastor Terry Jones’ plan to burn the Qu’ran (cancelled but still profaning by intent) – or the furor over the idea of a mosque (or, more accurately, news reports stress, a cultural center with a room for prayer) being built near Ground Zero?

     My guess?  He’d have appreciated the suggestion by Keith Clark (SCNC) that “not only a mosque but houses of worship for every religion be built there…(making) this hallowed ground…a place to build peace and mutual respect and interfaith relationships.”  Gets my vote!
As for “more productive paths,” Paul (that misunderstood and misquoted “misogynist” – you know, the one who portrayed the “Way” in terms of “neither Jew nor Greek, free nor slave, male nor female”), proposed one. 

     According to Bruce McLaren, author of Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices, Pauline misconceptions may best be countered with a shift in our approach to reading the texts, with reading Paul primarily in the light of Jesus rather than the other way around.  This, he explains, would open us to understanding “Paul’s message as echoing Jesus, calling people to a way of life characterized by reconciliation with God, one another, and all creation in a global community.”  This, he continues, left Paul’s listeners – and, by extension, leaves us – dealing with the reality of a “Way” which includes both “Gentiles and Jews,” making “bacon-eating, Sabbath-breaking, uncircumcised newbies equals and partners in the mission of God in the world with people who are part of a two-thousand-year-old sacred tradition!”  Talk about radical inclusion!

     Paul used pregnancy imagery – “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19) to “reveal the spiritual life as a “way.”  Also in Galatians (5:22), he refers to the seed of Christ planted within us…and states that if we tend the seed (by walking in the spirit – nice mixed metaphor, that) we will “bear the fruit of the Spirit in the world.”  McLaren asks, “What does this imagery suggest about the role of the Holy Spirit, the grace of God and the power of God at work within us?”   Good question.

     May we, by crossing cultural boundaries, by sharing experiences with people of different backgrounds and beliefs and, yes, by walking labyrinths, whether physical or mental, discover unknown – and beautiful – depths in others and within ourselves.  May our pilgrimage birth a new and wondrous world – the “Kin-dom” of God.

Mary Domb Mikkelson is a member of the volunteer Editorial Committee for Connecting Voices and a member of United Church of Christ in La Mesa

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