A week ago, I went on my first pilgrimage. It wasn’t a journey to some faraway land. It took place right here in Fargo, from one end of the city to the other. The pilgrims included an eighth-grade class as well as some chaperones and teachers, and yes, one lowly event photographer (that’d be me).
A ten-mile walk might not seem like a lot to those used to running marathons, but for me, it was quite a trek. I definitely felt it in my strained muscles the next day, though during the walk itself I was mostly unaware of how much ground we’d covered at any given point. I was too busy enjoying the experience through the lens of a camera and my five senses.
Later that day, I mustered up what energy I had left and posted some photos and a brief explanation of the day’s events. I knew I’d only skimmed the surface and that the experience deserved deeper coverage. But other worthy topics came quickly into view, and I decided that perhaps I’d said all that needed to be said about it after all.
Enter a comment from a reader who suggested that the most beneficial part of the pilgrimage probably was the exercise. The reader went on to explain that he/she has a deal with God; God leaves him/her alone, and in return, he/she “won’t trash God’s world.” In other words, he/she seemed to be questioning the purpose of the pilgrimage, not to mention whether anything edifying had resulted, save a bit of healthy exercise.
Despite the comment’s challenging tone, I’m thankful for it. It gave me pause, prompting me to realize I’d not shared nearly enough about the interior journey that took place that day. As a result, I’m getting in a little closer this time, and I’ve put together a list of “Top Five Things I Gained from the Pilgrimage:”
5. A taste of sacrifice. It’s true that exercise was one of the perks of the pilgrimage, but definitely the least rather than the most beneficial of them, and perhaps not for reasons that would seem most obvious. Yes, the trek got my heart pumping and served as a gentle reminder of my lack of physical in-shape-ness. But beyond that, my aching body the following day proved to be a beautiful reminder of sacrifice, an inherent part of the pilgrim experience. My pains also were a pointed reminder of another, even bigger sacrifice carried out on my behalf; one offered so that I might live life in abundance with the assurance of forgiveness and the hope of heaven. And I didn’t even help carry the wooden cross that came along with us! Instead of regretting the walk when my body began complaining, I felt a sense of accomplishment from having started at point A and ending at point B, slightly changed from the inside out.
4. Renewed awe of the unplugged world. The small group of us who shuttled up to Holy Spirit Church, the journey’s beginning point, arrived a few minutes late. It was nothing short of soul-stirring to walk into a church at 8 a.m. to find it full of eighth-graders praying the Rosary together. I’m sure some of those students had their minds elsewhere. Some may have been checking out the cute guy or girl in front of them. Others might have been in a morning mental fog. Still others may have been wondering how long before the lunch stop. But the point is, they were praying, and whether or not we are aware of what happens when we pray, it is a transformative experience to take time out of our lives to focus on our Creator; to leave behind the electronics, breathe in the air (whether the scent of Mass candles or the smell of wet leaves) and plug into the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, as well as Mother Mary, who brought Him into our world. Walking into the middle of that scene grabbed hold of me in a profound way and was better than any cup of coffee at prompting my body, mind and soul to pay attention.
3. Revived appreciation of youth. I’m drawn to youthful energy, and who isn’t, really? When a small band of walkers started singing spiritual camp songs in the middle of one of the busiest streets in Fargo, I eventually joined in as well. And as the pilgrims held up their “Honk if you love Jesus” signs and looked to each passing car with a sense of hope, then yelled out in happiness when they garnered a honk, well, I became 13 again myself for a short while. Yes, that child at my center, the child of God that is always present, was awakened in a refreshing way throughout the journey with these students.
2. Gratitude for the cause. I’ve done several news articles on the God’s Child Project, and have conversed with its founder, Patrick Atkinson, as a result of those endeavors. I’ve listened to my hair stylist talk about traveling with her family to Guatemala to be part of this effort to serve the poor, to make life easier on those whose daily struggles are beyond comparison to the majority of ours here in the United States. And I’ve read the book, The Dream Maker, by Monica Hannan, that tells Atkinson’s story. To be part of this cause of raising money for and to help create an awareness of the God’s Child Project — especially after my multi-faceted preview of the project leading up to the pilgrimage — was gratifying.
But the number-one gain for me…
1. (Honestly? Okay then, the raw truth…) A day with my kid. This might seem the most selfish reason for taking part, but speaking from my mother heart, this was it. And it went beyond “I’m hanging with my teen son,” because it wasn’t the usual hanging-out experience. I quickly became aware of the walk’s spiritual effects for me personally as well as for my son. This part is harder to pin down, because it’s not immediately identifiable. It’s a soul thing, and it must be experienced in order to be felt. My son might not even realize the truth of it for years to come, but I know for a fact that his interior was indelibly changed because of this pilgrimage. You can’t take part in something bigger than yourself, something that’s going to make someone’s life on the other side of the world better, without being transformed. And I know that is part of the reason my heart felt so light and high that day. The journey required sacrifice, including digging to the bottom of my purse to find enough change to pay for a sitter for my youngest. But I did this without hesitation, all to spend the day with (even if at a respectful distance from) my oldest child and his peers. That alone is a rare gift and reason enough to have become involved.
So, yeah, my muscles became a little more
toned numb the day of the pilgrimage, but that was nothin’ compared to the workout of the soul that transpired.
My blogging friend Mary (Not Strictly Spiritual) recently wrote a nice piece about pilgrimages for Our Sunday Visitor magazine. Check it out if you’re interested in the topic and have a few minutes.
What sorts of extraordinary moments have you had with your children or other dear ones lately?