Holy Routines: The Pilgrim Life

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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My pilgrimage began the day we went back to visit my grandmother’s land. I had come to say goodbye, to walk my memories across the familiar pasture, trace my boundary lines along the ancient wooden fence. The land was passing out of our grasp, as were many of my early haunts and confidences, both physical and spiritual. The roots of our home countries wind deep into our being, and I recall that day as one of restlessness, the feeling of anticipation lying just below my ribs.

I’d gone to the old poplar grove to find the pair of hawks Grandma had said were nesting in one of the trees. I remember the pull in my chest—the siren song of the land, I’d thought. Head tilted up, scanning the treetops for the sign of a nest, I heard a rustle over my shoulder, felt something heavy and vital stir the air beside my face. Immediately, in my line of sight, was the gray-brown, bulleted shape of a great horned owl. She glided past and perched on a low branch, hunched and settled her body before staring back at me with enormous yellow eyes.

We watched each other, my heart in my throat, the sound of my breathing loud in my ears. What had called her out of her hidden refuge in the middle of the day? Why had she drawn my attention? She hadn’t touched me, but I could feel her wings against my cheek, a thrill surging in my chest.

A pilgrimage, some say, is understood first in the body, only later in the soul. I knew nothing on that day except the rush of blood in my veins, the startle of meeting eyes, but somehow my body recognized the moment for what it was: a call to come away, to leave the comfort of the places I knew as home. I had grown up fundamentalist, under the banner of dominion and conquer. I had been raised to know the world as something already understood, already determined, and needing none of my curiosity—only my subduing. I was a girl then who didn’t know there were things put in the world to make us tremble, to teach us to be humble.

Writer Paulo Coelho says that the essence of pilgrimage is to be open to new places and new experiences, to allow ourselves to be touched and changed by the world as we encounter it. I remember that day in the field as an awakening, the moment when at last the voice of Christ reached my shuttered soul and urged, “Follow.”

There’s an unease that accompanies our ideas of pilgrimage. One thinks of mournful souls traveling penitent on bleeding knees, or confused wanderers without allegiance or conviction. That is not my journey. My path is walked out behind the scenes of the most ordinary life. Instead of aching miles on foot, instead of sacred roads and faraway destinations, my pilgrimage is one of spiritual discipline and awareness. It is a deliberate posture of remaining open but clear-eyed, of eschewing the comfort of shorthand labels, tribal associations, and easy definitions. It is a practice of confidently naming myself and the One I follow, of welcoming mystery, and staying restful within its shadows, of bowing my head and heart before the vast unendingness of God.

I am not a natural wanderer; hobbit-like, I long for home. The urge to retreat into the familiar is a desperate temptation at times. But pilgrimage is about pushing on, about believing the Voice you follow is a treasure worth more than a permanent address or a nametag or a label. For now, there is no end in sight. I scale one mountain only to find another at its back. The path winds on and on, and I have come to believe that this journey will last my lifetime.

Robert Frost famously wrote, “The woods are silent, dark and deep, and I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” I can still remember the way those wild yellow eyes looked down on me from my grandmother’s trees. I can still feel the way those heavy wings brushed close to my unseeing face. They come to me again and again, and I have learned now to welcome their disturbance, to understand my restlessness as the urging of God, the Ancient One, whose depths never end. And so I keep on.

There are miles to go before I sleep, and ahead there is a Voice calling, calling.


Holy Routines

We have asked some members of our community to share their holy routines. At first glance, these routines may not seem holy at all. However, in this series, Holy Routines, our writers extend an invitation to you to walk beside them in the actions and interactions and spaces that often seem ordinary but also usher them into the presence of God. We hope that spending a few moments in the holy routines of a few friends will inspire you to see and meet God in daily moments you may be tempted to rush through, or where you feel tempted to overlook the presence of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this series will give you permission to savor the sacred in the ordinary moments of your day.

Featured image by Mary Anne Morgan. Used with Permission. Source via Flickr.