Yesterday I picked up a necklace from the jewelers. I’m sure they were wondering why I wanted this worn, silver chain fixed. It’s not really worth anything. But for me it carries great meaning. Twenty years ago I purchased this silver cross after visiting Canterbury Cathedral. Today as I get ready to journey towards a story the next two weeks – to the places of C. S. Lewis and other authors – putting this simple necklace around my neck reminds me of the reasons for these months of preparations – pilgrimage.
Preparation has always been a part of pilgrimage. If you were traveling to the Holy Land in the Middle Ages there was no guarantee that you’d be returning home, so having all your financial, familial, and spiritual obligations in order was essential. In contrast, a two week trip to England via routine routes available to pilgrims today does not warrant a full scale estate plan. But still I was overwhelmed with preparations.
- Plan the fall schedule for campus ministry
- Print out maps and make reservations
- Check on health insurance
- Pay bills and call
- Buy that one last ‘necessary’ item
But as I shopped and finalized speakers for the fall, I also realized I was missing out on some of the more significant preparations. Yes, I read many writings of C. S. Lewis, but did not always reflecting on them deeply. At times I was more excited about crossing out another title, than understanding the writing and meaning of a given book or essay. I also stopped writing to any great extent. I definitely stopped posting on this blog. It was if time was in abeyance until all these external tasks were finished.
Clearly, one of my stories over the past months has been one of getting everything right for this trip. I wanted to have no unexpected detours or moments of anxiety. I wanted to make it antiseptic and safe. I wanted to read all the books. Yet, in the midst of all of this, there remained a whispering voice me about my reason for this trip.
Underneath all these task lists, another story has been smoldering. I yearn to walk in the steps of C.S. Lewis and other authors and to re-engage with passions for literature and writing. These yearnings drove the itinerary – Oxford, Bath, Lindisfarne, Lake District – and they calmed me down. Most importantly they nudged me to remember of the callings of this journey.
- To encounter new and loved places and stories.
- To meet fellow pilgrims
- To follow the story of writers and be inspired again.
- To refocus priorities.
- To seek a time to relish God’s story and listen to where it may be drawing me next.
Even as I sit here in my basement home office writing, a smile is moving up from my soul to my face. I’m breathing more calmly. I can’t wait to step onto the plane.
This journey will be one of transformation, though I don’t know what kind. It’s time to stop the frantic running around and rest. As the time for departure closes in, I’ve been encouraged by the well wishes from students, friends, and family. These are definitely not a formal ritual sending, but they are their own form of blessing. They represent the community in which I live and the ways in which they encourage me.
So, as I place this old silver necklace around my neck, it is with remembrance of pilgrimages taken before and expectations for the path before me.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. Psalm 84:5