A pilgrimage is a journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about the self, others, nature, or a higher good, through the experience. It can lead to a personal transformation, after which the pilgrim returns to their daily life.
I thought of the trip Leigh and I took recently, to see the Northern Lights off the coast of Norway above the Arctic Circle, as a vacation, a ‘bucket list’ item, a time to let go of regular routines. Well, it was all of that; however, my very wise Spiritual Director said to me before I left, ‘Look at this as a Pilgrimage’. So, I let God in. Sometimes I don’t do that very well; I go forward with my own agenda. (Practice what you preach, huh?)
So how do you have a ‘pilgrimage experience’ on a cruise boat with 2600 other people? That’s God’s challenge, not mine. I just had to be open to it. So, when I least expected it, God was present and made it known to me in definitive ways.
The first time was when our room steward, John from India, asked me if I was Roman Catholic as we exited the room one day. I explained that he was close, but I was Episcopalian (like Anglicans). It was my crosses that I wear that got his attention. One is a Celtic cross and the other is my Daughters of the King cross. I always had them on. God gave John and I a segue into conversation other than his job duties; it also allowed me to ask him about his home and his travels away from it. This is the hospitality that St. Benedict instructs us to impart, one that shows interest, kindness, and love for others; the kind of hospitality that sees Christ in everyone.
The second time God intervened and used me on the ship was with a stranger traveling by herself that we befriended. We often saw each other during the course of the twelve-day cruise. One day, we were both in line to get a latte, when she said to me, ‘Would you pray for my mother today, it’s the anniversary of her death.” Of course, I would and include Karen also. I knew she and her mom had traveled extensively together and now Karen was trying to go places they couldn’t go as her Mom gradually lost that ability. I prayed for Karen and Sue, strength for Karen to go forward with her life, and peace for Sue in a heavenly kingdom that only she and other saints know. It brought me closer in thought to my own mom and Dad who I no longer see. God blessed me in a special way with that request for prayer from a new friend.
The next time was as Leigh and I visited a 12th Century monastery in the countryside of Norway. It was a beautiful setting complete with a pond and a graceful swan! The monastery is intact but owned by the Norwegian Government and used for a variety of events. The tour included a ‘concert’ by a local woman and her husband. She had a professional voice that was truly heightened by the age-old acoustics of the monastery. I felt the ‘thinness’ of this special place from the beginning, but when our singer sang ‘Ave Maria’, tears flowed for me. I knew God’s Holy Presence was encompassing all of us there and that sometimes, it is overwhelming. All I could think was, ‘Praise be to God’.
Then there were the Northern Lights…as if God were using a paintbrush in clear view of us! Some were narrow strokes, some broad. When you thought it might be over, here came another ‘round’ of strokes. Science can explain it, but it doesn’t diminish the fact that a Supreme Being is in charge.
God protected me and mine through some stormy weather, gave me absolute messages, and made sure that our time is always a pilgrimage, “where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about the self, others, nature, or a higher good.”