Throughout history Christians serious about their relationship with God have taken journeys in order to meet with God. I think we need a new commitment to pilgrimage. A pilgrimage to find God among the last, the least and the lost.
Pilgrimage is essentially simple. You leave what is comfortable and familiar; journey to a new place and possibly new people; you meet with God; you change; you return home and work out your experience in the realities of life. There are two ways in which pilgrimage has become important to me: A personal discipline that I try to practice every day and the traditional sense of pilgrimage as journey.
I’m going to start with the personal discipline as in many ways this is the one I find hardest.
Reading the gospels it is fascinating to notice how many times it says that Jesus saw someone. In the middle of a crowd of people and a busy life Jesus actually noticed an individual. Usually he went on to touch that individual in a profound way. Seeing and doing are intimately linked. If we notice we are moved to act. This is why we often don’t see, why we even shield ourselves from seeing.
Poverty is not statistics it is people. It is not a huge crowd in a refugee camp on the news it is thousands of individual stories. Recognising that someone in need is an individual, a person made in God’s image, a human being like me is the first step to fulfilling the command to love our neighbour as ourselves. This is the radical message of the good Samaritan: there are no strangers, no statistics, no news stories there are only people made in Gods image who are in need. This might mean the absolute poor around the world. Or it might mean the poor more closely to us. Someone who is bullied, or left out, or struggling with substance abuse or is desperately lonely or is in debt. The point is whoever they are and wherever they are they need a neighbour. And the neighbour is me.
It is amazing how often we do not see these people. We screen them out of our daily lives, flick over the TV news and end up not noticing them as people and not caring about them as we carry on our comfortable lives. Yet in a profound way God is with the broken, the outcast and the poor and we find an intimacy with God as we connect with them. It is in serving that we receive. It is in giving our lives away to others that we gain life. ‘Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven’ and we receive more of the kingdom when we are with them.
This is the pilgrimage that we need to go on every day. To leave the comfort of our lives, connect with the last, least and lost around us and around the world and discover that in discovering them we encounter God. And the discipline of this kind of pilgrimage is to see. To take the time to see who is around us, notice what they are thinking, see who is involved and who excluded. To see not a billion living on less than a dollar per day but to see a billion people made in Gods image for whom God has plans and dreams and purpose. Having seen we can pray and act and serve. And we will meet God.