Friday, May 27, 2005

The Sacred Trek the Ages

When God called a people to Himself, He set them on a pilgrimage. He made for Himself sojourners. He led them through seas, navigated them through deserts and took them up mountains. He caused them to move, so they could be still and know He was God. He put them on a journey, so they would remember He was their destination. Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Moses. Ruth. David. Elijah. Elisha. Jeremiah. David. Isaiah. Mary. Joseph. Jesus, the ultimate Pilgrim. Peter. John. Paul. Each was called to sojourn, all were led to follow the Father and invite others to Him en route.

From the time of the Torah to now others too have sojourned to and through the Holy Land. Some traveled for feasts, others to offer for sacrifices. Curiosity and love wooed many weary souls. We have the accounts of women such as Egaria who trekked from Spain and Helena (Constantine’s mom) and Paula who traveled from Rome to Jerusalem in the 4th century A.D.

Pilgrimages were an integral part of medieval spirituality. During those days some sojourned for devotion, others to make atonement for sins by gaining indulgences, some to seek a miracle for sickness, and others went for adventure and to get away from home life1. People would visit shrines to saints, places where holy people lived, labored, did miracles, or died2. Pilgrimages to Jerusalem were of such importance in the Middle Ages that the Crusades started -in part- to ensure passage to the Holy City. While people’s motives for their pilgrimages varied, what was consistent was that they were compelled to journey.

1. Gallyon, Margery Kempe and Medieval England, 151.
2. Ibid., 151.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Setting Off on a Sacred Trek

I am writing to you from a familiar bench in Freedom Park, my favorite park in Charlotte. But I’m dreaming of benches I have never seen in parks thousands of miles from here.

Tomorrow, I set off on a sacred trek from Rome to Jerusalem. I will journey with two friends along ancient Roman pilgrim routes. As we traverse through the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel, we desire to take an honest gaze at the origins and legacy of our Christian faith.

Our pilgrimage West to East will steer us through cities central to the spread of Christianity and countries scarred by religious fragmentation. The path from Rome to Jerusalem has been the stage for some of the most romantic and tragic scenes in two millennia of Christian history - if not, indeed, of world history. It has also served as the backdrop for some of the most reported religious conflicts in the last two decades.

We long to pass through these lands as learners and listeners -- not as confident Crusaders or citizens of a super power. So, we plan to interview people on benches in squares, cathedrals, ancient amphitheaters, train stations, temples, gardens, mosques and maybe even at the Hard Rock Café in Beirut.

We will ask two questions:

1. How would you describe God?
2. What would you like Americans to understand about your country?

We don’t know what to expect, but we are praying for divine encounters and holy serendipity. We desire to discover the sacred en route – not simply stationed in ruins and relics but also present in people.

We have an ambitious itinerary, and at this moment it feels more like The Amazing Race than a hallowed holiday. But soon we will be on the road, and as we travel I plan to send you a few postcards to let you know who we meet on those benches along the way.

This journey feels like a dream set in motion. When asked what compels me to go, I confess I can't fully explain it. I am stirred and stilled by adventure. I am moved by the dance of the past and the present. I love seeing God work in the world and sharing those stories with others. However, I suspect greater understanding will be found on the road.

I look forward to sharing this sacred trek with you!