A pilgrim is not someone going somewhere; it is a person away from home. Pilgrim means “resident alien,” and Abraham is our prototype. He lived on faith, in full pursuit of a deeper and deeper relationship with God. For Abraham it began with the commandment to depart from his country and kin for a new land, a land that God promised to give him (Gen 12:1–3). This journey came to be the model for how one lived a life of faith on the move—as one goes deeper and deeper into relationship with God, one gets closer and closer to one’s authentic self.
Being a pilgrim is about leaving the place where one is settled and happy and going to a different place. The Israelites were so certain that this was a good idea that they integrated pilgrimage into their corporate worship life. They made pilgrimage liturgical. Three times a year men were required to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem (Exo 23:17 and Deut 16:16). They believed that the shekinah (glory of God) resided in visible form over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies in the Temple, so going to Jerusalem was going to see, or at least to be near, God (Ps 11:4, 26:8, 63:2, 132:13–14). A pilgrimage was like going on vacation to visit God.
The cycle of pilgrimage in the Christian tradition is a bit different from that of the Israelites. For Christians, pilgrimage is the notion that we are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb 11:13). As with our Jewish ancestors, it is a journey of faith, but for us the journey brings us toward deeper relationship with Jesus. The Book of Hebrews is the best guide in the New Testament for what a pilgrim’s life is about. The author captures many heroes of the faith as wandering in deserts, mountains, and caves, yet never finding the promise because “God had provided something better than a promise”(Heb 11:38–40). God has given us God’s self in the person of Jesus. And so Christians are encouraged to lay every weight aside and journey toward the goal. This goal is not the earthly Zion, but “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where Christ reigns” (Heb 12:1, 22).
For many, pilgrimage today means a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Jerusalem, Mecca, or the Ganges River. But for modern Americans who have the blessing of being able to travel and live in places that to some would constitute life in the Kingdom of God, pilgrimage stands as a symbol, or a symbolic action, of one’s deepest desire to live a life in faithful pursuit of God. Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, “You cannot fully understand the deeper meaning of language and concepts of a particular religion unless you have the shared the context of experience of its disciplines, practices.”
At Epiphany you will be invited to live as a pilgrim and encouraged to travel to holy places to strengthen you faith.
PILGRIMAGE AT EPIPHANY
The organizing principle of pilgrimage at Epiphany is “first the Holy Land.” If you take no other pilgrimage in your life, this is the one to take. And if you plan to take other pilgrimages, take this one first. The Holy Land pilgrimage should be thought of as Pilgrimage 101.
The Holy Land pilgrimage finds its place of primacy because it takes us into the context of the life of Christ. To walk where Jesus walked puts an entirely different perspective on all scripture. It gives one the eyes to see what Jesus saw, to feel the earth that Jesus walked on, to watch the sun set as he saw it set and rise as he saw it rise. The sounds of Jerusalem are different today than they were 2,000 years ago, but they are also the same. The smells are different, but they are also the same. A pilgrimage is a gift to the sojourner, but also a prayer to God. It is a living, breathing, moving prayer that I hope all parishioners at Epiphany will one day have the opportunity to render to God.
The 2016 Holy Land Pilgrims kept a blog! Read all about their experiences here: http://epiphany2016pilgrimage.wordpress.com/.
Epiphany Holy Land pilgrims have inspired additional pilgrimages within the parish. In 2014 a group of pilgrims traveled to Cambridge University in Cambridge, England, to study Anglican history and to visit the great cathedrals, such as Eli, St. Alban’s, St. Paul’s, Westminster, and Canterbury to pray.
We have also done “pilgrimages-in-place,” or local walks and visits in our own community. During the summer of 2015, Epiphany Parish walked from the church to different locations within Seattle to witness the holy in places otherwise marked as profane. We did this in conjunction with our rector Doyt Conn’s sabbatical, during which he walked 116 km of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela trail in Spain. While he was on this pilgrimage, parishioners traveled 982 kilometers (or eight Caminos) into the heart of Seattle. These pilgrimages-in-place have added to our collective perspective on our city, and given us more insight into how to better serve our neighbors.
The Camino de Santiago de Compostela
Affectionately called “The Camino” or “The Way,” this series of trails and roads in Spain and France lead to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. Pilgrims walk hundreds of miles to attend the Pilgrim’s Mass at St. James’ Cathedral at noon every day. In the fall of 2015, one of our parishioners Holly Boone walked over 500 miles in 41 days to attend the mass, and she shared her experience in a Sunday Adult Forum. Click here to download and read a detailed account of her travels.
Below is a section of a letter written to encourage Mr. White to take a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It reflects on the service of Holy Fire that takes place in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Holy Saturday during Orthodox Holy Week.
Dear Mr. White,
I am writing upon the urging of Iyad Qumri. He relayed to me that you are considering a trip to Jerusalem for the Service of Holy Fire, and to that I responded, “He must go!”
Mr. White, never has my soul been so marked and moved by a single experience. To say it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience is to significantly underrepresent the experience itself. In truth, this is not a precious experience, and it does not have an overlay of saccharine, sentimental religiosity. It is wild and scary and chaotic. It is the kind of thing that set my soul on the razor’s edge of eternity. Fifteen thousand people smashed into a space meant for half that. Tribes battled to stand in certain places. I was an Anglican outsider masking as an Armenian and then a Romanian just to get in. And when I did, I found quickly that I was just another pilgrim packed like a sardine next to other pilgrims looking to get a glimpse of the Holy Fire. And I did! I did! My candle bundle was ablaze, as were thousands of others’ in a space too tight for such madness. It was terrifying and exhilarating. I screamed at the top of my voice, “We are the Christians! We are the Christians!” And my single shout was swallowed up by the voices of thousands of others shouting in their own tongue. Pentecost recreated.