A pilgrimage of contradictions

Pilgrimage is a sign of contradition, and of resistance to our prevailing value system, that of the market. Pilgrimage, after all, has no function other than itself; its means is as important as its end, its process as its product. Its utility value is small, and its benefits cannot be quantified or costed. Its value is intrinsic. It is something that is good to do because it is good to do. It states clearly that the extravagant gesture (because it is extravagant in terms of time and commitment) is an irrepressible part of what it means to be human and to walk on earth. And whether the context for pilgrimage is solitude or community, we will draw deeper into the mystery of God and the care of creation.

quoted in Ian Bradley, 2000, Colonies of Heaven, London: Darton, p237

I still remember the first time I watched Emilio Estevez's The Way (2010) starring his father, Martin Sheen. I was a wreck by the end, weeping openly at the end. An incredible film that gently unfolds the stories of four pilgrims who encounter one another on the way. There's a great scene when one of the characters - a writer - has a rant about the profusion of metaphors on the Camino de Santiago. It's hard to avoid them in writing about the film ....

The film reminded me that pilgrims are not people who have chosen to be together. You could argue that they are, by definition, like-minded, but that's not what these fellow-travellers exhibit. Whilst they are walking the same path and heading in the same direction, each one's motivation is unique (and evolving). What holds them together is a common task and a shared identity, and a willingness to be in (temporary) relationship.

The Methodist Church committed itself at a 'Pilgrimage of Faith' nearly twenty-five years ago. Sadly, nearly a quarter of a century later, there are still very many Methodists who have yet to find their way to the starting place. For many others we may have travelled along the same road and allowed ourselves to be known by the same name, but we have done so in silence. I am not entirely sure we have been willing to be in relationship. Our stories are barely known to each other and I sense we are afraid to ask in case we hear things we don't want to.

The Pilgrimage metaphor is a good one. It allows for diversity and development; it gives each breathing space. It demands effort from everyone and places the focus beyond the present. I don't think we've embraced this metaphor. When faced with controversy, Christians tend to head for the hills - or at least the bunkers. Can we find a better way of doing things?

My experience says yes! But it is grounded in a willingness to be honest with our fellow pilgrims. I have been deeply appreciative of the fellowship and love I have received from people like Paul Smith, Martin Turner, Kim Reisman, Bp Joseph Ntombura, Leslie Dareeju, and many others from the World Methodist family who have not necessarily agreed with me but have embraced me as a fellow-pilgrim. I honestly believe that we can find a way to be in deep fellowship with one another that doesn't diminish our differences but also refuses to define us simply by our beliefs and opinions. There must be something in the gospel of the incarnation that pushes us to see others as flesh and blood and not simply theological labels. I am struggling (with lots of others) to find a way through this, and I search for wisdom from others ....

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