Most spiritual disciplines are intended to allow the Holy Spirit access into the deep well of the soul. One of the more easily overlooked truths about spiritual disciplines is that we only really learn to apply them in community.
To read a book about them or take a class might give you good information, but usually it then becomes additional fodder for developing a hard heart towards the Spirit. All unapplied information is like this. The discipline of Pilgrimage is no different.
So rather than read about the discipline of pilgrimage, we actually took one with a group of folks this past spring. We wanted to travel through places that the Holy Spirit had moved in significant ways through church history. The goal was simply be there in those places, and just get in line with a host of saints who prayed there.
What we weren't expecting was a duplication of what God did in history. Rather what we were expecting was what God may want to show us about us today. He uses the entire process of travel with others to bore into our well-guarded neurotic choices to expose us to what hinders the love of God from working within us and then spill over to our neighbor.
One of our fellow pilgrims was Curt Johnson. Curt has been a friend since high school days. He is a school counselor and lover of adolescents. He and his wife, Cathy, have been involved with Young Life their entire adult lives. They've raised four kids of their own and now have a pack of grand-kids. Curt gave me permission to share with you his take on the pilgrimage. I hope you'll enjoy some of the vulnerability he shares in how God spoke to him.
Traveling alone to Philly and then to London was nearly seamless, easy. Cathy, my wife, had set me up so well — easy flight times, transportation from Heathrow by Uber, a cool boutique hotel in a great part of London near Piccadilly Circus. Two full days of London! Yet, what I also experienced was a loneliness and an anxiety that I wasn't expecting.
I was noticing that, while very much enjoying the new sights, new people, and new food, there was a sense of emptiness. I was exhausted by mid-afternoon each day and looked forward to retreating to my hotel room to be alone and quiet for the rest of the day. I remember thinking, "Boy, this is easy - making decisions about what to do and where to go... but there's something missing." I missed my wife. What fun is it to experience all this by yourself? It was also the beginning of a deeper questioning and longing.
At Nether Spring, home of the Northumbria Community, there was a sweet spirit that permeated the property as well as each of us. The pastoral view of the English countryside, the simple, classic architecture, and the cozy chapel was enough to charm us all. But what was most significant was the way we were loved and served! That's what stands out to me.
Everything that was attached to being loved well became meaningful and special. For example, the food wasn't spectacularly good. But my soul was satisfied at every meal. Our teachers' singing wasn't anything Grammy worthy, but I was moved by the honesty and sincerity in which it was delivered.
I realized from the teaching at Nether Springs I am in the 'Fall' season of my life, and there are many things to reflect upon as I look back, and anticipate, as I look forward. Yet, it is learning to live in the present that seems to be the hardest! As so often happens to me when I journal, I re-read my entry from my last day in London prior to our train ride to Northumbria and see now that I was on the right track! The entry written two months ago, but read today, is more meaningful to me now! Go figure. Here it is:
“Read Richard Rohr today. He is on a theme of using St. Francis as a great example of how to follow Christ. - the path of descent, the ‘way of the cross,’ letting go. We become free as we let go of three primary energy centers:
- Our need for power & control
- Our need for safety & security
- Our need for affection & esteem”
Moving on to Edinburgh and London I was torn between being ready to go home and wanting to experience the rest of the purpose of our pilgrimage. Again, the architecture and the history of those great cities were a highlight of our time there.
Cuthbert's Chapel might have been a source of inspiration for me had I not sunk into my loneliness. Sadly, I must confess - I was not a very good pilgrim. Shoot, I wasn't even a very good tourist. Not that I wasn't grateful for the experience. Most of the time, I enjoyed being with all of my fellow pilgrims and enjoyed the visit to Scotland & London. But I realize now that I'd turned inward. Sometimes it was a healthy, reflective inwardness. Other times it was just a selfish, pity-party. Regardless, I am grateful for it all and all that it taught me.
Finally, here's my take-away: My life could be easily, and somewhat enjoyably, lived independently and alone; uncomplicated, comfortable, and simple. Or, I can be in relationships with others, where it gets messy, uncomfortable and complicated. Alone, I'm in charge, safe, esteemed, yet incomplete. In relationship (with others and with God) I have purpose, joy, peace, love. And that makes absolutely no sense! Until you experience it.
Thank you Curt for letting us peek into the well of your soul.
Learning about disciplines is important, fun, and necessary. Practicing them is a bit more daunting. Check out some of the ways you can both learn and practice with others through some of the upcoming opportunities we are hosting. We provided this post and these offerings in hopes they will be a blessing to you.