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Pilgrimage – A Reflection

March 2, 2020
Thomas Merton’s grave

Pilgrimage. How many times have I been on a Pilgrimage to holy places. One was my Mom’s ancestral home in Scotland. Another was to St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh where I stood in the pulpit where John Knox preached during the Scottish Reformation. I also visited numerous holy places in Oxford where scholars like J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis taught and wrote.

This pilgrimage includes so many places in the US. The spot in Mobile, Alabama where Michael Donald was lynched (and the court case ultimately bankrupted the United Klans of America). The National Memorial for Peace and Justice and Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama where the story of racism, lynching, and mass incarceration are memorialized and where I was challenged as a White Male with privilege to go deep within and confront White privilege and my own complicity in the system which perpetuates racism.

Pilgrimage means so much to each person who is willing to look within and listen to the voice of God (even when it is very uncomfortable). There is also another perspective on pilgrimage which Thomas Merton and his Celtic monastic ancestors spoke about.

The object of pilgrimage is to take the monk to his peculiar and appointed place on the face of the earth, a place not determined by nature, race, and society, but by the free choice of God. Here he was to live, praise God and finally die. His body is buried in this spot, and would there await the Resurrection. The pilgrimage of the Celtic monk was not then just endless and aimless wandering for its own sake. It was a journey to a mysterious, unknown, but divinely appointed place, which was to be the place of the monk’s ultimate meeting with God.
— Mystics and Zen Masters “From Pilgrimage to Crusade (p. 96) and Thomas Merton’s Gethsemane: Landscapes of Paradise (p. 1)

As someone who has wandered all over the world, at times I long to make my way to that sacred space. For so many years I have wandered… for so many years I have not felt the Benedictine understanding of Stability.

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