It is hard for us, in our North American-Southern-21st century-Dallas Fort Worth context to grasp the idea of a pilgrim. We don’t really do pilgrimages. Some may, but the majority, probably not. We talk about pilgrims coming to Plymouth Rock around Thanksgiving. But the posture of even those pilgrims is lost in a different narrative.
My first encounter with the idea of a modern-day pilgrim was in Ukraine 1993. As we travelled down narrow roads into villages, we would see small, one room what I called “chapels” along the road. There was only enough room to fit maybe 1-3 people inside, to get out of the sun, or rain, or snow. Each one was near a shade tree and mineral water source. Inside, there was a bible, candles, some fresh bread, and a pitcher of water. It was a holy place to stop, pray, restore, and then to continue on the journey. These little roadside buildings so simple and yet symbolic, a beautiful gesture. It was a place of generosity, hospitality, even if no one was there to greet the traveler. Someone had been there in anticipation of an arrival.
Over the next twenty five years in my travels around the world, I encountered many more pilgrims on a variety of pilgrimages. No matter which journey and destination, which faith or country, there was indeed a posture that was recognizable. A people taking care of each other, encouraging each other to stay on the path, on this journey to find and encounter something holy. In my youthful haste, I didn’t stop to interact. I was on a different journey, a different path.
And then there was Oviedo. Walking through the Asturian capital, I was mesmerized by the architecture from pre-Romanesque to Calatrava, the lush dark green trees, the long hum of bagpipes, the random Woody Allen statue, and then suddenly I stumbled across a brass seashell embedded in the cobble stone.
I stopped in my tracks. It was one of the Santiago de Compostela shells. I had heard about these for years but never saw one. It was pointing. It was directing to the Camino de Santiago. I bent down to touch it…to place my hand upon it. It was the size of the palm of my hand. This ancient symbol has been guiding pilgrims since 812 A.D. I polished it a bit and looked up to see if anyone was going that way.
On my last visit last year, I combed the streets one late afternoon looking to find that shell again. At last, I turned a corner and a few steps beyond, there it was. A little girl ran by me and jumped over it as I was snapping a photo. I look at that photo today to see a whole story that I couldn’t see at the moment. There were two pieces of black gum, the girl’s feet running another direction, and the lines in the pavers led the eyes to yet another direction.
As we prepare for our first Forge Dallas Missional Conversation on Pilgrim Ways with Dr. Michael Stroope, I am looking forward to learning more about the posture of a pilgrim. As the photo suggests, in a world with so many directions to go and life so emphatically pulling on us, we need many strong, faithful pilgrims. Some to open a door, have bread, a pitcher of water, a bible, and a box of candles ready for us. Some to walk alongside, to discover the journey together, and help guide each other to follow the right signs, on the right path for a season or for a lifetime.
Join us January 24th 8:30-11:00 Missional Conversation with Dr. Michael Stroope at Valley Ranch Baptist Church 1501 E. Beltline Road, Coppell, TX 75019.
R.S.V.P. at https://www.facebook.com/events/106952666771041/