Pilgrimage is a funny thing. When you begin, you may not know the destination, you usually do not know the route, and you never know the true purpose.
I went on one today. I didn’t know it when I left; I only heard God inviting me to a journey, to walk for a while.
In my life “walking with God” = “wrestling with God” = prayer. There’s been a lot of darkness in my life lately, so I knew God was challenging me to a wrestling match. I rarely win these things (though I always come out ahead), but I accepted the invitation, grabbed the dog, and headed out the door with no destination, no agenda, no limits.
We wrestled with hurt. We wrestled with betrayal. We wrestled with abandonment. We wrestled with darkness when I so diligently sought light. Back and forth we wrestled.
And then I realized God had a destination in mind–a destination to which I did not want to go, a destination that would expose expose pain, a destination that would be awkward, a destination that may not provide a welcome reception. The destination was the home of a pair of dear friends, whose relationship with me has been stressed of late by external pressures that are not necessarily the fault of either of us.
So God and I wrestled about the destination, all the while God continued to put one foot in front of the other, until I relented. Then we walked in silence.
Eventually the silence was broken by my mind trying to figure out whether anyone would be home, and what I would say if someone was home. God kept calling me a fool, reminding me to trust God and respect the relationship enough to not try to script it.
Apparently no one was home. Having God direct you to a place only to find that place “closed” is a peculiar experience, I assure you. For me, I realized it was to expose “why”: why I would journey there on a pilgrimage at all. The answer, as the answer usually is, is love. I chose to compose an email on their front steps to communicate that love.
And then I began my journey home. Far less seems to be found in the historical record about the return pilgrimage, but it seems perhaps more significant than the “going” pilgrimage.
On the return, I struggle with returning at all. I am, after all, changed by the journey: How do I be a changed “me” in the life I left? What about the challenges of human relationship? What about the uncertainty? What of the darkness I hoped to escape?
All questions without answers. But in the journey, God stills the questions, and reminds me: God is the pilgrimage, not the destination.
The journey continues. Life continues. I return home in darkness, literally. But as I walk up the stairs to the warmth and light of my family, this I know: The journey continues still, and I give thanks.