Charge to the Pilgrims

Charge to the Pilgrims

The youth were asked to assemble in front of the pulpit, facing the congregation as these words were read to them.  Following the charge, we performed a Laying On of Hands ceremony, where the youth were surrounded by the chaperones, who were then surrounded by the families of the pilgrims, who were then surrounded by the entire assembled congregation as a physical blessing and sending-off on our journey.  -lm

You are about to change forever.
In fact, you’ve already been changing.

Since the moment you agreed to journey,
something has been at work inside of you.
Every time you’ve felt uncomfortable—
anxious, resistant, insecure, angry, challenged—
all those feelings mean you are changing.

For the past nine months together,
we have been planning the external details—
where we’ll be sleeping, how we’ll get there, raising the money.

we have only lightly touched
on the spiritual aspect of our travels.
And this is a pilgrimage.

For as long as there have been humans,
there have been pilgrims.
For as long as we have had a spark of curiosity,
it has called us to journey over the horizon.
For as long as we have known there were others,
we have longed to know ourselves.

We follow in the footsteps of the human legacy.

Travel, we are reminded, derives from the word travail,
which is rooted in the Latin word for a medieval torture rack.
There are moments in travel
that are like being “on the rack.”
And perhaps
there are moments in preparing for travel
that stretch us
beyond what we thought we had signed up for.

Some of these moments
might be directly related to the trip—
figuring out what to pack
getting forms filled out and turned in
trying to plan your itinerary
realizing you have no idea how to camp
trying to find a pet-sitter

But some of these moments
may seem like they are completely unrelated to the journey—
getting sick at an inconvenient time
trying to finish the school year
having a fight with a friend
losing a competition
dropping your phone in a lake

it may feel like you can’t possibly be ready to go,
because all these other things
keep getting in the way!
But they are not in the way—
they are the way.
All of those challenges
are part of the pilgrimage.
They are part of the spiritual aspect.

In every moment, you have a choice.
Will you speak or stay silent?
Will you wake up or go to sleep?
Will you laugh or cry?
In every moment, you choose.
And when you are challenged—
when you are uncomfortable, or insecure, or grumpy—
you make a choice.
How do you respond?
Will you bottle it up?
Will you explode?
Will you cast blame on others?
Will you step back and breathe?
Will you speak up?
Will you question your reaction
and wonder
how you might learn from it?

All of us
have assumptions about how this journey will unfold.
And at some point, all of us
will have those assumptions disrupted
and turned upside down.

There will come moments for each of us
where we get uncomfortable
(and probably even grumpy).
And each of us will choose
in those moments
whether or not we take that challenge
and learn from it
and allow ourselves to be changed.

But also remember
this journey is not just about hardship.
Part of our spiritual travels
involve learning how to be in community
for an extended period of time.

Yes, of course there will be some clashes.
That’s part of the travail.

But this is also an opportunity
to expand yourself
beyond what you thought you were capable of.
This is a chance
to practice
being the person you want to be.
This is an extended moment
to let people in
and just be together.

Everything is not going to go perfectly according to plan.
There will be times when you have to say “no.”
We’re not going to get everything “right.”
And that’s okay.

Over the next two and a half weeks,
we are going to practice
letting go.
I want you to think
about everything you’re attached to.
Your friends.
Your home.
Your loved ones.
And material objects,
like your cell phone, or the internet, or your favorite TV shows.
Think of the less obvious attachments too—
your desire to succeed and avoid failure;
the pressure to say “yes” instead of “no”;
the idea that you have to be happy all the time;
or society’s message that you need new clothes or makeup to be accepted.

I hope
as we invest this time together—
as we roll over the hills and around the mountains—
as we journey away from our ordinary, everyday lives—
I hope
we can help each other
let go of these things.

On this trip,
even if you learn nothing else,
I want you to remember three things:

Let go.
You can say “no.”
It is impossible to fail.

Take a moment to hold those three things in your bones:

Let go.
You can say “no.”
It is impossible to fail.

When you return,
the world will be the same as it was before you left
but you will not be.

And you will continue to change
as time goes by
and the memories of this journey work on you.

So prepare yourselves, travelers.
Because the journey is not beginning—
it has already begun.


Pilgrimage Readings adapted from The Art of Pilgrimage, by Phil Cousineau

(These readings were used in the service at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Minnetonka on Sunday, June 10, 2012.  There was one section read by each pilgrim leaving on the Pilgrimage to Phoenix — 10 youth and 4 adults.)

1.  Pilgrimage is the kind of journeying that marks the move from mindless to mindful, from soulless to soulful travel.  The difference may be subtle or dramatic; it is by definition life-changing.

2.  If the journey you have chosen is indeed a pilgrimage, a soulful journey, it will be rigorous.  Ancient wisdom suggests that if you aren’t trembling as you approach the sacred, it isn’t the real thing.  The sacred, in its various guises as holy ground, art, or knowledge, evokes emotion and commotion.

3.  In each of us dwells a wanderer, a gypsy, a pilgrim.  What matters most on your journey is how deeply you see, how attentively you hear, how richly the encounters are felt in your heart and soul.

4.  Centuries of travel lore suggest that when we no longer know where to turn, our real journey has just begun.  At that crossroads moment, a voice calls to our pilgrim soul.  This is the journey we cannot not take.

5.  Pilgrimage is the soul’s desire to return to the center, whether it portends ecstasy or agony.  What makes a pilgrimage sacred is the longing behind the journey.

6.  To be touched, we must, in turn, touch.  When life has lost its meaning, a pilgrim will risk everything to get back in touch with life.

7.  On my journeys with others, I choose a theme.  I try to focus on details: the doors of Dublin houses, roadside shrines in Turkey, the faces of children in India.  We then take the time to write, draw, photograph, and discuss what it is that attracts our attention, even our love.  For there is no powerful pilgrimage without love.

8.  In our times, the promise of true pilgrimage has been trivialized.  We’ve turned the ecstatic possibilities of pilgrimage into something tame like trips to Disneyland.  We don’t believe — or are in fear of — the ecstatic because of the Puritan streak in us.  What we’re doing is creating predominantly an illusion of pilgrimage in pop culture, an illusion of being there.

9.  The secret, of course, is that there is no secret.  No one way, just your way.  How else can I tell you this?

10.  Everywhere you go, there is a secret room.  To discover it, you must knock on walls and listen for the echo that portends the secret passage.  You must pull books off shelves to see if the library shelf swings open to reveal the hidden room.  I’ll say this again:  Everywhere has a secret room.  As a pilgrim you must find it or you will never understand the hidden reasons why you really left home.

11.  Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought.

12.  The ultimate aim of the quest, if one is to return, must be neither release nor ecstasy for oneself, but the wisdom and the power to serve others.

13.  We learn by going where we have to go; we arrive when we find ourselves on the road walking toward us.

14.  We do not risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us.  We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god.  And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves.  Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence.  And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.



About Leaping Loon

I am an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister serving our congregation in Elgin, Illinois. While I am determined to embrace my propensity to wander, it oftentimes takes a leap of faith to do so. My life's motto seems to be: "Leap, and the net will appear." True to my spirit, and following Love's call, I must simply free myself to go. Where will I end up? Let's find out. Welcome to my journey!
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One Response to Charge to the Pilgrims

  1. Pingback: What Is a Pilgrimage, Anyway? | Leaping Loon

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