With power bars and water bottles, we headed out on an adventure. Last week during Pope Francis’ visit, my friend, Kris, and I went on a pilgrimage. We joined the thousands of people who ignored the apocalyptic traffic reports to venture downtown. In the middle of the night, we donned reflective vests and checked bike lights to make sure our way was illuminated.
Not surprisingly at 3AM, there weren’t many people or vehicles on our route. Rather than eerie, the night-time ride was uplifting. I knew the bike route around the Pentagon to the White House; knowledge acquired through trial and error. While Arlington has done a decent job with bike paths, most signs benefit motor vehicles. Bike riders better watch out and know the way, especially in the dark with identifying curb cuts and where paths jog at sharp angles.
After crossing Memorial Bridge, we stopped to commune with Lincoln; the reflecting pool at his feet and Orion overhead. Encountering few cars and fewer people to that point, flashing police car lights indicated that we were closing in on our destination. Various armed and armor-vested representatives of law enforcement, from Secret Service to park and DC police, patrolled the security checkpoint. And there, we met our first obstacle: all this preparation, but no one could tell us where to secure our bicycles—apparently bikes were not deemed worthy of a paragraph in the operations order. We finally locked to a bus sign post, with hopes they would not be confiscated as a security hazard.
A conversion experience can happen anytime or anywhere but certain elements differentiate it from an ordinary trip. It is not only about committing to a journey, but also aiming at a specific destination and allowing the experience to reverberate in your post-pilgrimage life. Proceed intentionally and identify a holy place; perhaps as near as the home you return to each day… Be conscious about why you are going and what you hope to achieve. Gathering information and supplies is part of preparing to separate from normal life. With embarking on a pilgrimage, you forgo the usual props and distractions, though it might require changes such as new clothes, a haircut, perhaps even fasting or adopting a new name.
Ordeals may be part of the process–testing one’s commitment. Besides the early awakening and self-propelled travel, we encountered a 50 minute delayed opening of security, varying interpretations on permissible items (some water bottles and fruit allowed; others not), and no coffee sold on the premises. After an hours long wait, we had about a 20 second glimpse of Pope Francis; which re-emphasized the value of the journey and not the destination. Visiting angels and Anne joined us and young men shared their bounty of hot chocolate. While a pilgrimage may be solitary or with thousands, companionship enriches the experience.
And after completion, re-entry. How will I use this as a catalyst to change my life? Do I have a new vision for the future? How will this seed planted in me bear fruit? Will I go forth to love and to serve? The journey is ever unfinished and the learning has its own timetable.
Look close and you can see the layers of it,
how it has been fashioned by those who walked this road before you
how it has been created of nothing but their determination and their dreaming,
how it has taken its form from an ancient hope that drew them forward
and made a way for them when no way could be seen.
Look closer and you will see this blessing is not finished,
that you are part of the path it is preparing
that you are how this blessing means to be
a voice within the wilderness and a welcome for the way
© Joan S Grey, 29 Sept 2015