A word we do not often use to describe ourselves is that of being a pilgrim. This may be because the notion of being a pilgrim is rather foreign to many of us. It describes a person on a quest, usually a spiritual one. Whilst on this quest or search, a journey is undertaken, often to unknown or unfamiliar places.
In the August 2016 issue of Methodist Message, I shared about the walking holiday my wife and I took along the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route across the north of Spain. During the ten-day walk, I found myself associating with the identity of being a pilgrim. After all, we were on an established pilgrim route, passing through many of the sites visited by pilgrims over hundreds of years and even carrying a Pilgrim’s Passport which was stamped as we fulfilled certain requirements.
Despite all this, I felt strange calling myself a pilgrim. An observation I made when asking fellow walkers about their reasons for undertaking their journey was that many were quick to say that it was not for any religious reason – it was as if making a pilgrimage in this day and age was unfashionable or even taboo.
While the Haj pilgrimage is a sacred duty for Muslims, our faith leaves us relatively free to express our religiosity in various ways. For example, some travel to the Holy Land or try to retrace the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul. Then there are those who warn against focusing on the form rather than the substance of our faith, who remind us that nothing we can do will earn us our salvation. Yet, as I witnessed the expressions of faith and devotion by some of my fellow pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, I wondered if the liberty we enjoy leaves us missing out on something.
I think there is value in having to work at our faith and to discipline our mind, body and spirit from time to time. Not that hard work will earn us any merit since our best efforts are offerings far too small. However, human nature is such that if something does not cost us much or anything at all, we tend not to treasure it. Thus, in disciplining ourselves, we are not trying to earn our salvation but to deepen our appreciation of God’s gift of salvation.
So what form should the rigour of our faith take? How do we guard against placing too much focus on the form of our practice and losing sight of the meaning behind it? How do we guard against the danger of being competitive in our faith – of trying to appear holier than our neighbour?
May I suggest that an answer to these questions may lie with the idea of being a pilgrim on a quest. We are all pilgrims and our time on earth is but a temporary way-station. Whilst individual quests may differ, some may be similar.
So perhaps until one discovers one’s unique quest, let me suggest that one generic quest should be to love the Lord with all our heart, our soul and our mind, and to make His love known to others. The form it may take should be informed by the Lord Himself rather than by blind adherence to rituals. If it be that knowing Him better is by reading His Word daily, then do it. If we feel led to worship through the Psalms or in silence, then such worship is pleasing to the Lord. If expressing God’s love is through encouraging a depressed friend, then do so without delay.
If we journey through life on such a quest, then truly we are pilgrims in our daily life.
Benny Bong –
has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.