It almost seems too obvious to say, but we do not travel alone. If we are solitary pilgrims, we have a companion; if we travel as part of a group an extra traveller joins us on the way. Part of the reason we take so much care over our preparation, and are careful to leave ‘well’ is because we need to become increasingly aware that God travels with us. We are not travelling to find God, God is our constant companion. And yet, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we may at times be totally unaware of the One who travels with us, until, in our travelling and talking and thinking, our spiritual eyes are suddenly opened and we see.
More than that, we often encounter God afresh as we move along the path:
“I saw a stranger yester e’en;
I put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place,
Music in the listening place;
And in the blessed name of the Triune
He blessed myself and my house,
My cattle and my dear ones.
And the lark said in her song
Often, often, often,
Goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise,
Often, often, often,
Goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise”
Old Celtic rune of hospitality
The places we visit along the way, the people we encounter, the surprises and disappointments we feel, the joy and the pain, times of speaking and times of silence, times to look and times to learn are all meant to focus us on our task of finding God at work in all things, to remind us that God may be found in unusual and unexpected places and people. Our everyday lives have often become so cluttered with myriad urgent and important things that we are truly unaccustomed to recognising the presence of God. one of the special gifts of a slow, unhurried walking pilgrimage is that it gives us time and space to shed the load and to make space for the really important things. After a while, we may even find that we are shedding the many masks we wear and becoming truly present ourselves both to God and those we meet.
Many pilgrims embrace a rhythm of prayer for each day, punctuating the day with times of concentrated prayer, perhaps using a Daily Office. This rhythm helps to sharpen our spiritual senses to appreciate God’s presence and to make sense of the experiences he guides us through. Photographs may be taken, objects picked up and entries made in a journal, to remind us of significant happenings along the way and to give us seed for contemplation both along the way and at journeys end and beyond.
Above all, it is vital that our thoughts are not totally fixed on our destination and our ultimate arrival. To do this would certainly lead to our missing out on the possibility of many rich experiences along the way; of finding God in the present moment.