“Somewhere,” by R.S.Thomas
The point of traveling is not to arrive but to return
home laden with pollen you shall work up
into honey the mind feeds on.
“A pilgrimage is a journey into discomfort with the expectation of new meaning and life.” I kind of stole that from Wikipedia and made it up, but it sounds accurate. A group of 28 pilgrims from Shepherd of the Valley aged 12-79 returned home from our two-week pilgrimage in Ireland and Wales. Yippee!
We visited some sites that would be considered traditionally holy. One of the highlights of our time was a four-hour walk along the cliffs of Wales to visit the different sites associated with St. Non and St. David. We prayed and listened to old stories about St. Non surviving rape and being shunned by society to raise a young man who later became the patron saint of Wales (St. David). St. Non is the patron saint for those who have survived abuse. One of her stories involves a rock embedded with her handprint where she gripped it while giving birth. Her icon shows a strong and fierce woman ready to take on the world. St. David is famous for his quote, “Be joyful. Keep your faith, and do the little things.” We don’t really know a ton about him besides that, but it’s a really good quote.
We also visited some sites that might not be considered traditionally holy — like Irish pubs. The live music in the pubs stirred my heart many a night. There would be one song where everyone sang and wept followed by one where everyone sang and cheered. There is something incredibly holy about everyone singing together and the space filling with a spirit of joy or sorrow.
We ate lots of good food, saw beautiful places, spent time together playing and praying, but what pollen did we bring home to work up into honey?
I’m not sure there were any earth-shattering revelations or changes in perspective, but I was reminded again of the power of community. We need each other to carry joy and sorrow together. We need each other to keep bad ideas in check and encourage risks that move us out of stagnation. We need each other to call us out on distorted perspectives and guide us into an expanded worldview. And to play cards.
Once you’ve traveled and shared bathrooms with people, you become pretty committed to staying in relationship. That means we can engage some difficult conversations and complex realities without fearing someone will get mad and leave. As a community of faith, we’ve been holding dialogues regarding a faithful response to abortion. Everyone is not on the same page and the conversations can be tense, but we agree we want to witness to the world what a community that loves and forgives looks like. We’ve held conversations on racism and small groups around sexuality.
None of these are comfortable or easy, but it all feels pretty Jesusy. Our goal isn’t for everyone to agree on a moral principle we can scream at the world, but to graciously wrestle with the brokenness of the world so all may know love and healing.
When people ask if they would be comfortable at Shepherd of the Valley, I reply with “I hope not.” Our goal isn’t comfort; our mission is to love and forgive. We are pilgrims on a journey into discomfort with the hope of new meaning and life.
• Tari Stage-Harvey is pastor for Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church. “Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders. It appears every Friday on the Juneau Empire’s Faith page.