Sometimes the pilgrimage does not go so well. Sometimes we wonder if we’re still moving forward at all.

In the tradition of pilgrimage, …
hardships are seen not as accidental but as integral to the journey itself.
Treacherous terrain,
bad weather,
taking a fall,
getting lost —
challenges of that sort, largely beyond our control, can strip the ego of the illusion that it is in charge and make space for the true self to emerge.

There are indeed times when developments in our lives force upon us the awareness that we are not really in charge, maybe an awareness that we seem to have no control at all.

That awareness can be resisted, apparently. But it seems to me that the people who succeed at resisting it for years on end are some of the most dangerous of people, and bringers of much grief into our world. They don’t realize, or don’t deal with, what it means to be human. And that’s going to turn out poorly sooner or later! It would be better for us to allow that awareness to come upon us more fully, more completely – that we are not really in charge.

Writing from the Quaker tradition, this author, Parker Palmer, reminds us of the calm self-awareness – and then God-awareness – that can come from that seeming derailing of our pilgrimage.

Disabused of our illusions by much travel and travail, we awaken one day to find that the sacred center is here and now — in every moment of the journey, everywhere in the world around us, and deep within our own hearts.

Quakers use terms like:
listening to the light
inner light,
inward light,
the God within,
still small voice,
Christ in us,
the seed,
etc.

And in that respect they remind me of Theresa of Avila with her analysis of personal spiritual life in terms of “the interior castle.”

That also reminds me of P.T. Forsyth talking about how we often avoid really praying because we usher the Lord on past certain rooms in our soul-house. We want Him to see only our “tidy places and public rooms.” That’s really not a good practice.

It is true, is it not, that God very often meets us most personally somewhere “inside” of us? That would have to be the case, since it is you — the spirit that is you, your soul, your conscience, your ‘mind’, your heart — where God intends to make the greatest changes. We won’t find God making those changes within us if our focus is entirely on the exterior world, least of all if our focus is entirely on trying to be “in charge” of that exterior world.

But before we come to that center, full of light, we must travel in the dark.

Darkness is not the whole of the story — every pilgrimage has passages of loveliness and joy — but it is the part of the story most often left untold.

When we finally escape the darkness and stumble into the light, it is tempting to tell others that our hope never flagged, to deny those long nights we spent cowering in fear.

We do no one any favors by pretending we have not been through some dark spells. We cannot then bring the honest comfort to others that they might be so much needing from our costly experience. And we cannot gain the “humiliation and its fine strength” (P.T. Forsyth again) that is one of the great gifts the Lord is bringing us in such times.

Disabused of our illusions by much travel and travail, we awaken one day to find that the sacred center is here and now — in every moment of the journey, everywhere in the world around us, and deep within our own hearts.

How goes your pilgrimage?

[Quotations are from Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, Parker J Palmer, Jossey-Bass, 2000, p18]