You will know by now that my favourite metaphor for life is that it is a pilgrimage .. a journey! How we view life in our minds eye is incredibly important I think. What we see life as in our imaginings gives meaning and direction to everything we do. It is one of the most important considerations you will ever make to think about what metaphor do you think of life through .. there are lots of possibilities .. is life a race, a gift, a challenge or test? What is life for you?
As someone who embraces the idea of life being a journey Epiphany is a good season for me because it is all about pilgrimage. It focuses on the Magi travelling from the Orient to the MIddle East across deserts and mountains on a pilgrimage to a Holy Place. It is specifically a pilgrimage in the true sense because the idea of that place has been sown in their hearts long ago and has stirred in their boots a desire to travel towards that place of peace and hope and love! Our pilgrimage as Christians is a call to Heaven .. a seed planted in our hearts of a better place!
I have been on a number of pilgrimages in my life. Aged 18 I set off for South East Asia for a few years and for 9 months of that I trekked the Himalayan foothills on a pilgrimage to take bibles to villages that had never had a bible before. In my 20’s I travelled around Cuba with Zoe visiting isolated churches in a country where communism had persecuted the church. In more recent years I have made pilgrimages to Monastries in the Alps and made my own sort of personal pilgrimage to Bethlehem for my 40th birthday where I ran in the Bethlehem marathon.
And what I have learned through these experiences of journeying and travelling has been reinforced time and time again .. that the most profound experiences of the journey are not so much in the landscape and landmarks in the world around me but in my own internal, spiritual landscape. For all its beauty and wonder from the Himalayas to the Alps to the Sinai desert my travels in this world have left a much more lasting legacy in my internal life than anything else.
Pilgrimage is always about internal change! The pilgrimage of life is about your internal landscape! It is this which is at the heart of Christian discipleship .. come follow me says Jesus and I will change you! I will make your life about something other than what you think it is. You may not go far geographically but you will journey in your heart and mind with me says Jesus. At the heart of this call to discipleship is the idea that we somehow get to know God and ourselves through this journey we call life!
Take the Magi as our Epiphany symbol then. I wonder whether the Magi would have been ready to give their gifts to the baby in a manger before they set out on their journey. Or was their generosity something that developed in the journey which changed them. Did the experience of following a star over strange deserts and amongst foreign people show them the importance of being generous I wonder? If I know anything about pilgrimage it is that you know yourself better at the end of it than when you started. You know a bit more about what really matters at the end than at the beginning. When you reach your destination you will know yourself in ways you could not have imagined! Whether sitting on a camel following a star. Or half way up a 3 day climb in the Himalayas. Or at the end of a hot and dusty marathon .. when you arrive at your destination you know yourself in ways you could never have imagined. I had to cycle back home from Hixon this week and I can tell you I learned new things about how I felt about life when I was 45 minutes into cycling uphill over the Chase!! If you want to know about yourself go on a journey!! Make a pilgrimage and you will understand the sentiment behind our Bible passages that God knows us far more intimately than we even know ourselves. I know you God says as I have knit you together and seen all there is to see about you already. I know you and love you! But come with me and I will help you know yourself. I know you Jesus says to His disciples .. but come follow me on a journey and I will help you know yourself as I do! And indeed to love yourself as I love you!
Without 40 years in the wilderness Israel would not have been the kind of community they were when they reached the promised land. Without weeks, who knows maybe months, following a star the Magi would not have been the generous givers they became when they arrived in Bethlehem. Without their time following Jesus and becoming aware of their own shortcomings and brokeness the disciples could not have built the early church community with a message of love and inclusion to all!
Without a journey, a pilgrimage, we do not know ourselves, or our Creator, as we ought. Life is a journey. It is a journey of self discovery and a journey of awakening to the Divine within us and around us! If you are not on a pilgrimage of faith you are missing out .. Jesus says come follow me .. I will be your shepherd .. I will guide you .. I will be your bright start in dark skies .. I will carry you when you cannot walk on and will place you back down when you are ready to walk again and learn more about who you are and what you can do. Follow me and we will journey together in this world
This Epiphany let us like the Magi be ready to set out on a journey of discovery. And let us be open to the possibility that life is an inner journey of self discovery which reveals to us the great love our Creator has for us .. because God knows us and loves us in ways we are only just starting to understand! Let us walk on together towards the Kingdom He has been preparing for us since the foundation of the world and which we will only really appreciate once we have made our journey to its gates.