Everything’s booked, the route is charted and the bags are packed. We’ve got our motives and our hopes and plans all sorted (even though it will probably turn out quite differently!!). We remain an armchair pilgrim unless we get up, close the door and set out.
But leaving is such an important part of any pilgrimage; it should not be hurried or treated lightly, as if it didn’t matter. The way we leave sets the tone for the way we travel, and that’s important. Perhaps the ‘3 Rs for pilgrims’ will help. So, not necessarily in the written order, our leaving involves:
Some sort of act of commitment to pilgrimage, an acknowledgement of our need for God’s presence and protection, some encouragement as we take the first steps is really helpful. Even if we will ultimately be travelling with a group (in which case we may do this all over again) we may choose to mark our leaving home in some way. We may choose to use an appropriate liturgy, if we know one. We may say it alone, or with family and friends, those we will leave behind or those who will be travelling with us. We may choose to do it in a place of worship, surrounded by those who are our ‘spiritual companions’ in that place.
It’s important because it helps to prepare us for the next ‘R’…
As we set out on pilgrimage we need to let go of various things. If we don’t they may slow us down, trip us up or even sabotage the journey completely. We may want to reconsider the weight of our pack…do we really need all this stuff (I usually pack far too many clothes, for example). The mobile phone, perhaps essential for communication to give assurance to our loved ones and to provide security for us in dire need, can be switched off and stored safely in a rucksack. The everyday thoughts about matters that have been so pressingly important need to be consciously laid aside (this may well be a daily matter for the first few days). We set aside our comfort (I often find this the toughest) and our security. We may even come to the point of realising that if we are to be truly available to God, cultivating an awareness of the gentle whisper, that we even need to be prepared to lay aside our hopes, aims, objectives and dreams for the pilgrimage. We may think we know why we’re going, but God may want to surprise us.
And so, we arrive at the point where we are as ready as we’ll ever be, when our frame of mind is settled and set on the road before us.
There are many miles to be travelled, many strangers to become friends, many lessons to be learned…much joy and pain to experience. Come on…with one last backward glance, it’s time to go.