How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD I’d hosts, my King and my God. Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. – Psalm 84:1-4
A Pilgrimage of the Spirit
Biblical scholars tell us that this beautiful psalm was written assume a song of celebration for Zion, which was the longed-for goal of any pilgrimage at that time. Just imagine what it would have been like to arrive in Jerusalem after weeks of walking day after day! My feet hurt just thinking about it, but my heart remembers the moment when I first set eyes on Jerusalem. I was standing in the Garden of Gesthemane, looking out over the Kidron Valley at the Temple Mount. The view took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes as I remembered the Gospel accounts of Jesus in that place. Beauty combined with scripture and the ancient footsteps of long-gone pilgrims. Music rose in my soul and a favorite hymn rose up unbidden. Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion city of our God.
These days, when we travel, we don’t go for “pilgrimage.” Today our busy schedules drive us to get where we are going, see the sights we want to see, and return home as quickly as possible. Our travel is fast-paced, just like our lives. Pilgrimage, on the other hand, is slow travel. A time offered up for the purpose of experiencing God in a new way.
Several years ago, I had the joy and the privilege of making a pilgrimage to the island of Iona — a tiny island off the west coast of Scotland where Christians have lived and died and prayed and worked and studied and sung and worshiped since the 6th Century. Over 1000 pilgrims arrive daily (weather permitting) to this place that isn’t as big as most housing communities in Naples!
For an entire week, I trekked the whole island, worshipped each evening with the Iona community, and absorbed a small piece of that place and its people. At what felt like the edge of the earth I discovered anew what is meant by the term a thin place — a place where earth and heaven touch each other in a new way to reveal God’s presence. Once again, tears often came to my eyes and music rose in my soul. This time, the spiritual:
There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place, and I know that it’s the Spirit of the Lord. And I heard the words of the ancient psalmist come to life — How lovely is dwelling place dwelling place O LORD of hosts!
The “trip” changed me. That’s what happens when people go on a pilgrimage. When we have touched something holy, we know it — whether that happens on Sunday morning in our beautiful Sanctuary or walking the labyrinth on Good Friday, or dipping our toes in the Gulf of Mexico while we watch a sunset, or rocking a baby to sleep or sitting down to a simple dinner with our spouse of 50 years. When the holy touches us, we are changed. There is a softening, an opening, the awareness of being made whole, if only for a moment. What grace! What a gift!
A PRAYER FOR TRAVELERS:
Holy God, you dwell in every place and every time. Open our hearts to hear your music in the places that are new and in those that are familiar. Open our eyes to see your grace wherever we find ourselves, whether we are traveling the globe or sitting at home with a good book. Touch us and make us new — this day and every day. Amen.