August 7, 2022
Every time I think of a pilgrimage, I end up asking myself questions. Will the steps I take expand my traditions? Religious and family traditions come to mind, but I would also extend the question to rituals, habits, and routines. Can spiritual experiences alter or interrupt any or all these activities that can be so automatic we don’t even think about them? I asked myself these questions when Teresa and I walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain back in 2019. The question of spirit over tradition accompanied me throughout the 520-mile walk.
My answer is yes, Pilgrimage as a Spiritual Path can interrupt all traditions, rituals, habits, and routines. The best way, I find, to understand the path of my life is through the images of pilgrimage. I’ll explain the evolution of my thinking and offer suggestions for how the Seekers community can use the pilgrimage concept to its advantage.
When I first began thinking of pilgrimage I found this definition from David Teniers the Younger, a Flemish Pilgrim: “A pilgrimage is a journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about themselves, others, nature, or a higher good, through the experience. It can lead to a personal transformation, after which the pilgrim returns to their daily life.”David Teniers the Younger – Wikipedia
I have found, however, a more fitting definition. “Pilgrimages frequently involve a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith, although sometimes it can be a metaphorical journey into someone’s own beliefs. Many religions attach spiritual importance to particular places: the place of birth or death of founders or saints, or to the place of their “calling” or spiritual awakening, or of their connection (visual or verbal with the divine),…” Pilgrimage – Wikipedia (background section)
Both the inner and outer journeys combine to form a pilgrimage as a spiritual path. The words of author Carolyn Myss describe our internal journey.
“Mystical [Spiritual] consciousness is a way of seeing the whole of your life with divine vision and of seeing the presence of God in the details of everything you do and everyone you are with. Meaning and purpose exist even in the smallest of tasks, and above all, you have the knowledge that you are a constant channel for grace in this world and you can silently, invisibly illuminate every situation you are in.”Caroline Myss, Entering the Castle (New York, NY: Atria, A Division of Simon and Schuster, Inc, 2007) p. 317
Before I even left for the trip, I prepared by learning a new skill at Rhizome Art Collective; how to make an indigo dye vat. Not a native plant to New Mexico, but one whose use for color has a long history there nonetheless ever since the European colonizers brought it, which they had taken from India. Making an indigo dye pot is a lot like kombucha; it’s a fermentation process that requires you to feed it and keep it in a safe, dark place. This color is a good one to start with because my mood was quite blue at the start of my trip as well.
My Life as a Pilgrimage
I have come to see my life journey as a spiritual path. It is a way of walking through the world. In fact, I am eagerly looking forward to walking the Portuguese Camino this summer and fall. Why? I refer to the Art of Pilgrimage, a book I read before going with Marjory on a pilgrimage in New Mexico back in 2018. “Pilgrimage changes lives. Whether we go halfway around the world or out to our own backyards…What matters most is whether we go in as we go out.” (p.236), which I translate as being fully present. The author quotes Sir John Mandeville, from the fourteenth century, who said, “If a [person] sets out from home on a journey, and kept right on going, he would come back to his own front door.” T.S. Eliot wrote, “the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Phil Cousineau, Art of Pilgrimage (San Francisco, Calif: Conari Press, 1998) p. 226
On my pilgrimage, in retrospect, I came to the Church of the Savior in the early 70’s, and my world views began to expand as did my self-awareness. The Church of the Savior forever shifted the path of my life. I was present during the transition to the new land and was one of the founding members of the Dayspring Church. As an active member of the retreat mission group, I participated as a retreat assistant and helped get the retreat house approved and built. Twenty plus years later, I returned to Seekers Church. When I return from Portugal, I will see Seekers Church and know it for the first time.
My parents (and all who went before them) seemed able to achieve salvation and serenity through church buildings, cathedrals, convents, monasteries, Bible readings, memorization and more. For me, however, I need a modern or mystical way to find the same power. I am experiencing this immediate power from my Traveling Monastery which I carry with me twenty- four hours a day. The traditional tools of my ancestors are packaged in my inner monastery and are always available.
Pilgrimage is an attitude which gives me a way to reframe my structure for living. Seen through the lens of a pilgrimage, I have an entirely different perspective toward my surroundings. Love and tolerance always apply. I think of each day as a divine experience. People, places, and things are part of the sacred journey. I stay ready to co-create, maybe with a conversation, maybe with a word, maybe with listening. What visions, dreams, or lifestyle patterns will occur to produce an alchemy resulting in shared love, expanding the circle of belonging? I want to be ready to have my imagination triggered, open to the possibility of co-creation. I keep an open mind.
Pilgrimage as a Spiritual Path for Seekers
The door to our Seekers community is open because we trust the divine. We believe God speaks directly to each person. We are on a communal pilgrimage seeking “a place of calling or spiritual awakening.” We trust that people who join us are also seeking. The Holy is at work in them, in us, in me and in you or if they, he, or she discover a different path they will take it. If they are responsive to us, we (Seekers) will offer endless opportunities, guidance, and support to love, be loved, and expand more than one could ever imagine. Just as God speaks directly to us as evidenced in sermons, the Holy also guides people as they find their way within our community.
How are we able to be present to those who come into our path? We can look to our history for some of our answers. Elizabeth O’Connor addressed this question back in 1991. As many of you know, she was the written voice of the Church of the Savior. In one of her books titled Servant Leaders, Servant Structures she notes:
“If the pilgrim journey is a journey toward freedom, then the liberating work is there freeing of love in me and the freeing of love in you…The difficulty confronting the churches in the organization of a small group movement is the lack of leadership for such groups. Scripture says, ‘Leaders, exert yourselves to lead’, but that is hard to do when most of us lack the confidence required to assume this kind of responsibility. We have discovered over the years that even the people who know how to administer churches, banks, corporations, and hospital units have no idea how to nurture a small group so that its members deepen their lives in Christ—learn self-knowledge, how to listen, and to care—the deep nurture of the spiritual so essential for the recovery of vision and passion…
In all of our institutions is a yearning for the presence of the fearless ones in whose company we will be able to put aside our own fears and to begin to hope and exercise imagination.”P.91
The long-term members of Seekers have given a compassionate, patient, and loving response to her suggestions. I, personally, have benefited with the development of my gifts and skills while participating in a mission group and serving as a steward. The mission group structure works as does the organizational leadership assigned to Stewards.
At the same time, how do people get spiritual companionship and/or spiritual direction if they are not in a mission group? This relates personally for me because I am not in a mission group and I am no longer a Steward, and I am on a pilgrimage.
I suggest that it is time again for each of us individually, and as a community to develop our leadership skills as suggested by Elizabeth O’Connor. In short, I am suggesting that we all walk intentionally on a conscious path of Servant Leadership. We have an abundance of love and collective life experience in our community. I like to say we are on a communal Pilgrimage. The shape of our path shifts based on the co-leadership that blossoms among us. For example, The School for Christian Growth, Celebration Circle, and the Time and Space mission groups serve critical functions in the life of our community. These voluntary functions are carried out mostly by people who are responding to their call. I can imagine that their work is never done. We need participation from everyone. Both new and long-standing community members can practice ways to express their leaderships skills.
We are in transition as a community. Let’s learn from those who lived through the Church of the Savior transition from one church to seven sister communities. When Gordon Cosby, Church of the Savior’s founder and pastor, suggested it was time to move into a new land, mission groups became churches, some groups re-parented themselves, strangers became friends, new people showed up, and others moved on. As I recall, there was a lot of fear which became the glue for creating trust.
How do we create trust? What are the ingredients that create spaces where people can walk with hope and confidence? There was a mission group in the Church of the Savior called the Faithful Friends Mission Group. I learned about it when Peter Bankson facilitated a class on spiritual companionship. The group put together a detailed guide for how to develop spiritual practices on a regular basis, how to structure a faithful friendship, and eight suggestions for keeping a journal. They also wrote how principles of meditation creates the gateway to prayer. These materials compose a helpful introduction to spiritual practices for the uninitiated and refreshers for those who are not in mission groups.
Could spiritual companionship and faithful friendship, become an important resource for those in the space between our front door, settling in, and finding their place of belonging in a mission group, service group, Stewards or simply in receiving the blessing that it is ok to move on to another path? When I was walking the El Camino in Spain, Teresa’s spiritual companionship was one of my anchors. I felt emotionally and spiritually safe and free to be myself. Acquaintances along the way became companions. We had a common destination. The occasional reassurance from experienced travelers was a gift. Although our paths eventually parted after a few steps, the co-creation that occurred is still in my heart today.
Step by step we move on pilgrimage trusting God on a path that is mysterious and unknown in advance. As a church, Seekers needs internal bridges and pathways for those who find their way here especially when they first arrive. We need faithful friendships or spiritual companions for each other. I think it would be exciting to create a faithful friends support group or even a mission group. Think of the rich experiences we have shared over the years as a faith community. One example that comes to mind is a class I took back in 2009. Peter Bankson guided a class about developing spiritual companionship. The guidelines he shared were gathered from the Art of Spiritual Companionship classes he attended at the National Cathedral. As we worked through the materials, themes emerged, and we were pleased to find that the Seekers community was practicing many of the concepts. For example, formal spiritual direction, informal companionship including wisdom sharing, spiritual friendship, faithful friends, holy listening, and holding hands (symbolically) were discussed. Based on our discussions and with the resources he brought to the class Peter created the first draft of a Spiritual Companionship Cookbook. As a church community, we have the concepts, the love, and the resources to provide guidance in building our confidence as servant leaders. Peter may even be willing to share his draft with us.
I can only imagine from my own perspective how a faithful friendship group could be the salve of compassion that helps build trust among people as we travel together. Do you find yourself longing for a place of belonging even as you worship and socialize in the Seekers community? Do you want to be a part of a support net that is there for others? Do you find yourself “wishing” the SLT could do more? Maybe some of us can come together in the spirit of being servant leaders for each other, to do more.
As an enticement to take Peter’s class on Spiritual Companionship, back in 2009, thirteen years ago, he wrote a preview for the class which he called “Hunting the Hope that Lies Deeper? Practice dying.” I will share it now as it continues to be one of the “guard rails,” so to speak that keeps me on my path. Peter starts by saying:
“As I’ve worked and worried over how to compress a year-long course into six weeks, I’ve begun to look at ‘spiritual companionship’ as a labor of love for the companion as the relationship grows with each pilgrim.” He goes on to share four action steps for loving the companion. Peter concludes with two basic insights; First, any life change is a kind of dying, an opportunity to practice letting go with hope, and Second, the spiritual path is often uneven, and it helps to have a companion, someone who can help you keep track of the presence of Christ and the angels.”
Do you see a vision? Do you hear a call? Do you want to practice and develop practical ways to translate spiritual companionship and faithful friendship into daily living? If these or similar questions are arising as you are traveling your path let me know. If there is interest, I will schedule an hour for us to circle up simply for sharing the longings we have for supporting ourselves and each other as spiritual companions. I would like to finish by reading from the Faithful Friends Handbook. The poem is by Dinah Maria Mulock Cralk
“A friend is someone who leaves you with all your freedom intact,
but who obliges you to be fully what you are.”
Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person,
Having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words,
But pouring them all right out, just as they are—
Chaff and grain together—
Certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them,
Keep what is worth keeping,
And with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”*
Amen*The poem is by Dinah Maria Mulock Cralk, The Best Loved Poems of the American People. Doubleday and Company, Inc, 1936