Look up the word. It entails a religious person doing something. The religious person who has read the holy scriptures, prayed the written prayers, and sung the hymns of old is moved out from the shadow of the Bible and into the light of the stories it tells.
Demons get cast out of people.
Thousands are fed.
People walk on water.
Water turns to wine.
The dead are raised to life.
The more educated I became about the Bible, I found myself coming up with reasonable solutions as to why the stories it told weren’t actually true. They were just folk tales told to kids back then, giving answers to life’s tough questions.
Red Seas can’t actually part.
The lame couldn’t really have been healed.
Jesus couldn’t have turned a few fishes into a Sizzler buffet.
And there is no way Jesus really stepped out of a tomb after being crucified.
These were only stories that had some moral lesson in it…right?
And so I went to Israel on pilgrimage.
And here I am today, writing to tell you I had it all wrong.
I’ve been to the hillbilly town of Nazareth. I’ve sat at the Sea of Galilee where Jesus fed more than five thousand people. I’ve sailed the sea where Jesus walked over the waters. I stood above the house where Jesus taught Peter and the Apostles, and I’ve even baptized people in the river Jordan.
By day two in Israel I could not stop the tears from streaming down my eyes.
I was terribly convicted. I found that I had domesticated Scripture. As long as I told the Bible how it should behave and highlighted the passages that best suited my lifestyle, it could be that book to help me when I called for assistance. I was its master and it worked well that way.
Pilgrimage, however, offers a different kind of outcome than I had planned.
The stories I read in the Bible were journal entries describing spiritual lessons that challenged this physical realm called earth. These storytelling priests described a backwards kingdom whenever they encountered God and maybe that explains why Scripture often seems ridiculous to me.
It’s into that ridiculous story that God calls us.
Scripture challenges us to imagine a world run by God. In that world the poor are rich, the blind can see, the first are last, enemies are my friends, people can command the oceans, and special needs kids can talk. I read that and I wanted to believe the Bible but, “surely God, you don’t do this today.” And so, at just the right time in my life, God called me to pilgrimage. He called out from across the ocean and said, “Come Shawn!: taste, see, feel, and experience.”
And everything I wanted to believe, I now do.
I know now what God wants us to see. I know exactly what everyone in our church needs to do to see what God wants us to see. And so I ask you, the reader, do you want to see? If not, all you will ever know about God is what others tell you. But if you want to see, get ready for the pilgrimage. For God is only experienced in that. When you say to God, “I’m with you, where else can I go?” you invite God into your story. And we don’t read the stories of a sedentary God. No, this God, when invited in, does the unimaginable. I can testify to it! God has taken me, this broken boy from a troubled home and set his course straight. He has taught me that mute sons have much more to say and teach than I could have ever imagined. He has given me a loving wife, a brilliant daughter, and a stable home life. Where I’m from that doesn’t happen. But it did happen…and because I went to the land of miracles God showed me how the kingdom really works.
If only we invite God in, if only we dared to believe and follow His ways…
That proverbial Red Sea in your life would split to allow you to get through it.
The life trials you never wanted would become your saving graces.
And healing might come in the acceptance that life serves us what it will and God won’t let us walk it alone.
Pilgrimage is us waking up each day and realizing that the God of the Bible is waiting for us to open our eyes each morning. He has called us to taste and see life, in all it has to offer, the good and the bad, knowing that he will let the storm rage on simply to get us to stop trusting in ourselves and to instead, trust in the God who is Lord of the seas.
The Psalmist writes, “I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from?” His answer, “my help comes from the Lord, the maker of Heaven and earth.”
He writes a song that only a person who pilgrimages with God everyday could write.
May each day be a spirit filled adventure that shapes and redefines who we are.