To be a pilgrim

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce, describes a journey on foot from one end of England to the other as a self-imposed atonement for some terrible wrong the hero of the book did many years before.

‘Pilgrimage’ comes from the Latin word peregrinus, meaning a stranger. Harold Fry moves out of his normal world where everyone knows him – or think they do – and makes himself a stranger moving among people who do not know him. In the process he discovers the beauty of other people and he learns much he did not know about himself.

His marriage had gone dry. He and his wife sleep in separate rooms and simply tolerate each other. Nothing more. A letter arrives evoking an event in the past and stirs Harold and sets him walking. The wife doesn’t know what is going on but gets caught up in a drama that leads to the rediscovery of their love for one another. Constantly tempted to give up, Harold finds within himself the courage to keep going and in doing so peels away layer upon layer of his past until he comes to understanding – and forgiveness.

The reader laughs a lot as he follows the story but delights in the shared discovery of the basic goodness of people – even the rogues. It strikes me there is something elemental in our nature about going on pilgrimage. Abraham did it when he left Ur. (Pope Francis went there earlier this month). Moses went to live as a stranger among the Midians. Paul went to Arabia and Jesus went to the desert. In medieval, from the European perspective, times, pilgrims set out for Jerusalem or Rome and sometimes to remote places like Compostela in Spain where St James is said to have lived. In our time people go to Lourdes or Fatima or Mecca or, in Zimbabwe, Mutemwa.

All these journeys are roads to discovery, especially self-discovery. People often say they are looking for something. They may call it healing but basically the agenda is vague and only becomes clear in the process of walking – and arriving. Lent is a pilgrimage even though we do not leave our home. It is the Church’s way of inviting her daughters and sons to move out of their normal lives and explore. ‘What more can I learn? What can I do better than I am doing now? What new world is waiting for me? Are there people I could reach out to I do not yet know?’

In the second book of Chronicles, it is the pagan king Cyrus who sends the Jewish people back to Jerusalem. ‘Whoever there is among you of all his people, may his God be with them. Let them go up!’ It was a joyful pilgrimage of restoration after years of exile. The gospel too, from John, uses the word ‘up’ but in a sombre sense pointing to the greatest journey of all. ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up…’

14 March 2021           Lent Sunday 4B          2 Chron 36:14-23       Eph 2:4-10      Jn 3:14-21

Post published in: Faith

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