Rev Ted Hicks: ‘On the Pilgrim Way’ (October postcard)

I call my monthly offerings “Pilgrim Postcards”, echoing an ancient spiritual practice of journeying to thin places where the obvious and the mysterious meet and mingle, along paths that have been recognized by others for the energies that accompany pilgrims on their way. Although the term has been misused by many Christians, “Way” is an image Jesus used to describe himself, not so much to put the focus on himself but, rather, to invite others to follow a path he models that leads to personal integration, to social transformation, to wisdom, and – maybe what all those words imply – to deeper intimacy with the Sacred within us and around us. In fact, the original name by which the earliest followers of Jesus were called was simply “The People of the Way.” There is something raw and primitive in that imagery that my soul longs to discover and inhabit.

Pilgrimage conjures a picture of people on the move, setting out with a back pack and a walking stick perhaps, following a trail well-worn or faintly discernible, and arriving at a destination that promises healing, transformation, and insight. The outward journey, though, is really a context for the inward journey one experiences along the way. The real pilgrimage is internal not external. The physical journey is not the point; what is the point is what is happening within us as we go. That is why even walking a labyrinth is considered a form of pilgrimage, as we allow the path to lead not only to its own centre but to our own, and then to return to the starting point recognizing that we are different from when we set out. A pilgrimage, then, can take many forms that may not even require us to leave home. It might be through the intentional decision to read a certain book, or start a journal, or enrol in an intriguing course, or end a toxic relationship, or nurture an intentional relationship in which vulnerable and maybe even profound conversations can arise, or to express something that is longing to be heard through us in music or painting or poetry or some other medium or…. Those dots are meant to suggest that there may be a way for you to go on pilgrimage that does not even occur to me. I wonder what that might be for you.

Almost a year ago now, I set out on a pilgrimage with my soul mate and faithful friend, Tammy, as we moved from the Comox Valley to a small town in Manitoba’s Interlake region. That was certainly a significant geographical undertaking but what makes it a pilgrimage is the impact it is having on me (and I am certain on Tammy as well). I use the present tense in that last sentence because, although we have long since “arrived”at our new home in Stonewall, my soul has not yet caught up to my body. I have moved many times in my life and, usually, I settle quickly and get caught up in the work that drew me there. This time, being retired, my “work” seems to be something other than becoming immersed in my new surroundings; it seems to be calling me down deeper to pay attention to some things that have been hooking on and trailing behind me over the years and to take stock of what is becoming of me through it all. Although I long for the simple contentment that marked my life in the Comox Valley, I have not yet arrived at such a settled place here. I may balk at the voice whispering to me to go deeper but, still, I hold onto the hope that what yet awaits me there is worth the journey. I can only trust that the voice calling me has my best interests at heart, knowing it is time to unsettle my apparent settledness.

I suppose, seen through the prism of pilgrimage, our whole unfolding life is a pilgrimage for those who are attuned to notice the interplay of the outward happenings in our lives with their inward influence. I am one person on the pilgrim way, trying to keep the path in view, searching for signposts, hoping to meet up with other travelling companions and guides, wondering where it is all leading, seeking to make sense of it all, and grateful for this opportunity to put into words something that is rumbling around inside me.

An illustration from John Bunyan’s classic allegorical novel, “The Pilgrim’s Progress”

Bless you on your pilgrimage. Ted Hicks


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