We are halfway through the small group that I am facilitating on The Soul of a Pilgrim. Every week I learn something new and continue to wrestle with this book and the whole idea of being a pilgrim.
It is clear to me that while we use the "Journey" language about the spiritual life that a pilgrimage is a little different. There were three sentences that really spoke to me last night.
1. The pilgrim leaves home in order to experience being a stranger.
2. When we walk toward what is uncomfortable we increase our capacity to be with difficult experiences.
3. In the gift of silence I learn again that I contain multitudes
Yesterday I had an experience of being "a stranger" as I began my training to be an ambassador at a funeral home. The last time I did a funeral there the director asked me to work there and I thought "why not?" It would be different and kind of fun to be a greeter and welcome people. I really like everyone at this funeral home, so why not? And honestly, after a year and a half of wondering what to do, it seemed like a nudging from God.
The training, however, brought me into a place of insecurity because I was going to have to learn the ropes. Yesterday morning, I learned about taking pictures of flowers and organizing them. I baked some cookies and windexed the outside of a casket in preparation for calling hours. I learned codes to get in the building and to set the thermostat. It was a lot of details and I could feel tension inside me start to develop as I wondered if I could remember everything. I know that in a week or so, I will feel comfortable here but yesterday I was "a stranger in a strange land."
It was in reflection on the pilgrimage book that I recognized that this kind of experience stretches me and makes me uncomfortable and yet I learn. I learn - not just the information - but about myself. Now that I am able to stand back and observe. Because these are the same feelings that I had when I started college, seminary, new jobs, parenting. Every new thing I do brings these feelings out. I like the idea of being in control and outwardly peaceful no matter what. That is who I want to be, but the truth is that when I am " the stranger" regardless of what i may project - inside there is always anxiety and self doubt that is also a part of me. And rather than deny it, I now can see that is part of the "multitudes" that is Margot.
Rumi writes: "God turns you from one feeling to another and teaches you by means of opposites, so that you will have two wings to fly - not one."
The author writes - "In the gift of silence I learn again that I contain multitudes. I cannot be fully defined by happy, sad, joyful or sorrowful. I do not need to choose, for the richness of life embraces all of it. I need only show up to each moment, to embrace the wholeness of who I am."
What I recognize is that only in those moments of risking being the stranger do I face all of myself and also see my need of God. But - like all of us - the temptation is to not be a pilgrim but to stay safe in relationships and activities that are familiar and routine.
There are all kinds of pilgrimages. My friend Mary Wood is in Thailand right now and Marsha Mueller is in Japan. They are meeting new people and having very different experiences because they are traveling abroad. . Working at a funeral home seems like a pale comparison to that, but I keep learning to trust God's guidance in big and small ways. To quote the book one more time:
"I am on a path of radical unknowing awaiting the gifts of this experience. Yet the call, I am certain, is to stop reaching, forcing, and trying to make the experience into something. I need to recognize that it already is something. My willingness to be here and follow the quiet voice is enough".
May it be so.