Saturday, August 06, 2016


“Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart.” 

Abraham Joshua Heschel

We took the cog railway to the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire a couple of years ago. Travelling up the steep incline, we passed the tree line, a huge boulder field and arrived at the top in an unwelcoming mixture of wind, driving rain, cold temperatures and fog. Our temporary discomfort and risk was nothing compared to that taken by adventurers who hiked the distance, frequently passing markers with names of people who had perished on the same journey in the past. They had a more intimate knowledge of the mountain and its moods and gained strength and wisdom during the challenging trek.

Hikers on Mount Washington NH

It is easy to give advice to others about where they should go and how to get there. It is harder to allow them to take their own pilgrimage, perhaps on an alternate path with different experiences, making mistakes and learning their own lessons. It is especially difficult to free our grown children to forge their own way in life.

This is a year of drought. Scattered thunderstorms form on humid afternoons but we have not had long, soaking rains for weeks. Newly planted trees need water but they also need to develop large tap roots that reach down to the water table. Some people heap large amounts of organic mulch around young trees and pour pails of water on the pile. The trees send roots upward to the mulched surface rather than downward to a sustaining water supply, a journey that will ensure longevity for the tree, even in dry years. 

Gros Morne Park, Newfoundland Canada

We come to a time when we need to walk away from our shrines and become a pilgrim. Shrines can feel safe with someone there telling you what to think or do, saying this is the best or only destination. We may receive shallow watering, rote answers to hard questions, and acceptance from the group who hangs out there with us. We tend to unfairly judge those who are in different places, but in time we will see cracks and weaknesses in our own shrines as well. Shrines come in many forms and may be religious, political, social, career based or even family oriented. 

Jesus called a group of disciples to join him in pilgrimage. They travelled with their teacher but never envisioned where the journey would ultimately lead them. He taught hard truths in parables leaving his followers with more questions than answers. He encouraged them to walk away from the rigid rules and expectations of religion to seek righteousness, truth, justice and reconciliation with God and man. 

Toll road along the Devil's Spine, Durango-Mazatlan Highway, Mexico

The chaplain at our hospital is a Kenyan lady, gracious, wise and from an evangelical Christian denomination. She supervises chaplaincy students from different faiths, including Islam, and works with a diverse group of patients. When I asked her how she reconciled her own beliefs with her work at the hospital where proselytization is discouraged she said,

“Everyone is on a spiritual journey. My job is to find out where they are and to walk beside them.”

We will cross paths with other pilgrims. We may share a table briefly or stay with them for a longer season, and we may journey alone at times. I remember how hard it was when I began to question and move away from the inflexible doctrines of the church I was raised in. In my journey I have had spiritual mentors from every walk of life. I have grown in strength in times of difficulty and in times of favour. I want to continue my travels in wide open spaces, not in walled rooms. 

Blessed are those whose strength is in you (Yahweh);
    who have set their hearts on a pilgrimage.
Passing through the valley of Weeping, 
they make it a place of springs.
    Yes, the autumn rain covers it with blessings.
They go from strength to strength.
    Everyone of them appears before God in Zion.
Psalm 84: 5-7 (World English Bible)

Ottawa River, Ontario Canada


  1. I love the analogy of shallow tap roots, Ruth. For survival, we DO need to go deeper. Lovely post.

  2. Hard times makes stronger or destroys us. Our maker can guide us through these times.

  3. Ruth, love all the thoughts here. And the last photo complements your words.

  4. Nice collection of photos to adorn this post. I like how you connected the drought with your theme. I think I could walk across our Mississippi, not that I am going to try.


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