Finding Renewal In Walking A Reflection on pilgrimage 2016 by Michelle L HofeR

May your feet follow your heart to the place of your resurrection.

As our group gathered together for the first time at the starting point of Glasgow, Scotland, it was appropriate amid prayer and singing for each of us to anoint our feet with oil. Through our correspondence prior to the trip, I was (mistakenly) under the impression that there wouldn't be a whole lot of walking to endure. I found myself fretting that I would need to seek out extra ways to be active on this trip. But after the first few days, it was evident that there would not be any shortage of walking opportunities. Everywhere we went there were streets, trails, footpaths, labyrinths and plenty of ample time to explore. Those of us who were active often logged six to ten miles of walking in a day.

I wasn’t sure exactly how my heart would lead my feet, but I had an experience toward the end of the trip (having ventured off on my own). My feet flew right out from under me when I slipped on a muddy trail. I landed flat on my back. There was something about just lying there in that moment that made the concept of resurrection real for me: What new life will I rise up out of this muck to find? What new life will I return home with? What new life will I live into this coming year? What has to die within me for this new life to begin?

The walk to Holy Island/Lindisfarne, just off the English coast, was in a single word, austere – a walk like none I’ve ever taken before. We didn’t walk on water, but it was close. The island is linked to the mainland by a causeway (in the modern era this includes a blacktop road) which is exposed two times during the day when the tide goes out. It is common for pilgrims visiting Holy Island to walk this four-mile stretch.

A number of us chose to walk this centuries old practice. The weather conditions were probably the worst we endured the entire trip - windy, rainy and cold. It took us about an hour to make the journey walking single file on the road’s edge and needing to step aside now and then to allow a vehicle to go by. Many times over as I walked, hood tied tight and shoes and pants soaked through, I reflected on how this served as an accurate metaphor of the cost of discipleship. Sometimes the path in life does get difficult and the travel treacherous, but this is what it is to follow Christ.

Because the causeway is mostly sand, many of us had the feeling of being an Israelite crossing the Red Sea. In summary, this walk became a profound faith and life experience.

All that walking...I literally felt at times that I couldn’t walk enough, the locales being so beautiful and inviting. I walked until my whole body hurt. Maybe I was overdoing it, but I sure did get to see a lot. Being out in beautiful natural settings was invigorating. Rising within me was a new awareness - walking is a spiritual practice and one that has many Biblical examples. Did God not lead the Israelites walking in the desert for 40 years? Wasn’t it God’s desire for the Israelites to travel (in those days it would have been mostly by foot) to Jerusalem for worship and sacrifice? Did Jesus not walk from place to place in his ministry and instruct the disciples to hit the trails as well?

The Celtic Christians had a special way to practice walking with God – the labyrinth. We hardly made a stop on this pilgrimage that didn’t offer a labyrinth. They were on the lawns, by the beaches, in the gardens, outside the churches (someone even carved a labyrinth into stone). I enjoyed when a guide would give us a simple devotional thought or question to ponder as we wound our way into and back out of the labyrinth. I learned on this trip how walking has real refreshment possibilities. It’s good for the body, mind, and soul. On those days where I walked and walked and walked, I would think about things: my life, my family, my church, my work and I could have an easy quiet conversation with God.

The centuries old Labyrinth Stone on display at the Glendalough, Ireland visitors center.

There were also those times when my venturing got me into some scary situations and then I had to cry out, “Help me! How do I get out of here?” In Glendalough, Ireland, I followed a footpath along the stream until I was deep into a wooded area and the path below me had disappeared. I had to decide whether to turn around and go back or keep moving forward and hopefully meet up with the boardwalk path (the one I should have stuck to). Eventually I realized that the section of path ahead was a bridge and I was down in a sloppy wet area below it. I literally had to jump (and hopefully not slip) to get close enough to the bridge to climb up. A literal leap of faith. The next obstacle was the bridge itself which had high boarded sides. Being rather short, I had to hoist myself up and then very awkwardly climb over the side and drop down onto the deck of the bridge. I also really didn’t want to have anyone see me make this climb. I hunched down until no one was on the bridge and quickly scrambled up and over and thanked God all the way back to the hotel that I was still in one piece.

May I encourage you?

Go for a walk...or a ride...or drive...or pull a chair up to an open window. Breathe the sweet smelling air, enjoy the colors springing from the earth. Tell God all the thoughts in your heart and feel God's presence in the creation around you.

Let your walking draw you closer to the Creator.

Your own resurrection awaits…

Stand at the crossroads and look;

ask for the ancient paths,

ASK WHERE THE GOOD WAY IS,

AND WALK IN IT,

and you will find rest for your souls.

- Jeremiah 6:16

Further inspiration:

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Michelle L Hofer
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