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Why are we talking about pilgrimage? The idea of pilgrimage can describe our spiritual life.
I think that pilgrimages can help us focus and connect with something larger than ourselves – the history, the tradition, the stories we know so well, and finally seeing the places in those stories with our own eyes. However, the danger is when we are obsessed with the physical journey and neglect the inner journey and end up being tourists rather than pilgrims. Or thinking that only by taking the physical journey that we can experience transformation. We may go on many trips to holy sites, but we may not experience what we are looking for.
Why? Because these holy sites are holy not because they are holy in and of themselves, but because they mark something that happened there.
Jacob named the place where he dreamt of a stairway resting on earth, and its top reaching to heaven and angles ascending and descending on it. God spoke to Jacob in his dream, saying
“I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.[d] 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel,[e] (house of God) though the city used to be called Luz.
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you.”
Did Jacob have a dream of God at Bethel because it is a holy place, or is Bethel holy because Jacob had a dream there?
Earlier this year, during my vacation in Thailand, I climbed up Khao Ngon Nak or Dragon Crest Mountain in Krabi. The climb turned out to be a lot tougher than I expected. There were moments I thought “maybe I should turn back. I was humming highlands as I was climbing – because the mountain was literally in my way.
So I will praise You on the mountain
And I will praise You when the mountain’s in my way
You’re the summit where my feet are
So I will praise You in the valleys all the same
What struck me was that the line “You’re the summit where my feet are.” In other words, the place we seek to reach to connect with God as we climb mountains isn’t the top of the mountain, but where our feet are. The holy encounters with God is not about the place, but about us and God.
It was especially true for me last year when I spent a few days at Taize, hoping to have a spiritual experience there. It didn’t happen. I was so preoccupied with being there, that I didn’t pay attention to what is happening inside. I was like what Gary and Pauline described in the past 2 Sundays a tourist – someone who made a physical journey, but not the inner spiritual journey.
In John 4, when the Samaritan woman spoke to Jesus, she pointed out that the Samaritans worshiped on Mount Gerizim, while the Jews worshiped in Jerusalem. Jesus’ reply was that a time was coming that we will worship God neither on this mountain or in Jerusalem, but worship God in spirit and in truth.
We often think that unless we go somewhere far away (and usually exotic), we are not able to encounter God. But God is as close as our breath. It is actually our mindsets that need to be adjusted so we can encounter God.
It is the same for our spiritual journeys. When we seek God, the place is less important than our inward state. What is our inner spiritual journey like?
In physical journeys, we have maps to guide us. Those of us who find physical maps challenging have maps of our phones now to guide us – you just open google maps and the map even orientates to the direction you are facing.
But spiritual journeys are different. Each of our journey is unique. What guides can help us? Are there directions?
There are many different spiritual disciplines developed over the centuries that help us on our spiritual journeys. One of which is the Rule of Life. I came across Growling the Rule of Life – resources created by the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, an Anglican monastic order and the Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary.
This “Rule of Life” is a tool from monastic spirituality that helps us cultivate our relationships with God, Self, Others, and Creation.
“But when monastics talk about a Rule of Life they’re not talking about a list of rules that we follow. The word “rule” comes from the Latin word regulari, which has the word that gives us words like regularize or regulations. And a rule is a way of regularizing our life, of bringing order and an intentional approach to the way that we are living. So rather than living randomly and just allowing ourselves to respond to the things that happen to us in life, a Rule of Life gives us a chance to step back and to think about what it is that we value and how we intend to live. What are the values we want to express in our daily living?”
– Br. David Vryhof
I want to pause here for a while – I am going to ask some questions. You may want to write short notes if some answers crop up for you. Don’t worry if you are struggling. The idea is get you a taste first. You can dive deeper on your own.
Who am I?
Who do I want to be?
What is important to me?
Who is God inviting me to be or become?
What do I want to invest time, energy, resources in?
Give time for God & Prayer
Priority to leisure, family and health
Priority to work
What do you already do that is life-giving?
What is the cornerstone of your life?
Do you schedule time for prayer, scripture, relationships, and worship? Will you? (anytime is no time) quality time for family and self? (exercise) stretching
How do we review all our relationships – and cultivating love in them?
What are you waiting to claim about your life, which you might later regret?
Is your day an accurate reflection of how you want to live? (Do you realise that days, weeks, months, years just flew by?)
We have been talking about spiritual growth for a long time. It seems to be what everyone is yearning for, but we all have different understanding of what spiritual growth means. While physical growth is obvious – we gain muscles, we grow taller, we run faster, we jump further – how do we measure or observe spiritual growth?
I believe that spiritual growth is observed through the fruits we bear – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23)
A good tree bears good fruit. But to bear fruit requires us to tend to the tree.
The Rule of life is a way to help us look at how we tend to the tree.
I would like to invite you on a journey of 6 weeks – watching a video of 2-3 minutes a day, and reflecting on them. We would be doing this together though – because if we do it on our own, it is very likely that this would wane off like so many of our New Year resolutions.
A rule of life is not to make you feel bad about yourself but give you a structure to develop your spiritual life. Like the brothers from SSJE says – the rule is like a trellis that a plant can grow on. Without the trellis, the plant just grows and creeps along the ground. It is the trellis that helps the plant grow upwards.
You can find out more about the rule of life at http://ssje.org/growrule
Another workbook that I found useful is found at https://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/living-intentionally.pdf
Join me on this pilgrimage and tend to our spiritual lives.