Taking the Next Step
For a long time I could not have really told you why I decided to go on pilgrimage—to walk nearly five hundred miles across northern Spain. At one time I was never going to waste my time and energy doing any such thing! Then all of a sudden, one day, I completely changed my mind. Going on pilgrimage was exactly what I wanted to do, and I couldn’t wait to get started.
It was actually my wife’s idea at first. We were in Chartres, France, in the late 1990s. She saw some fit looking, middle-aged people striding by, dressed in athletic shirts, shorts, and walking shoes. “I’d like to do that some day,” she blurted out, quite randomly.
“Do what?” I knew she didn’t mean just going for a walk, and braced myself for whatever “out there” idea she was going to spring on me.
“There’s a pilgrimage route that runs right through Chartres,” she explained. “Those people are probably pilgrims. See the scallop shells embedded in the ground? They mark a pathway that goes all the way to Santiago de Compostela.”
“To where?” I was puzzled. I had neither heard of the place, nor had I ever noticed the blue and yellow shells.
“It’s in Spain. It’s the most popular Christian pilgrimage destination in the world, after Jerusalem and Rome. Every year tens of thousands of people, coming from many different directions, walk hundreds of miles to reach the place where James the apostle’s bones are believed to be buried. Santiago is Saint James in Spanish.”
I was only partly listening. I like being out in nature and quite enjoy hiking, but at the moment, the thought of walking anywhere other than to the town square to get a pain au chocolat and café (chocolate pastry and coffee) seemed excessive. The picture I conjured up of pilgrimage was walking for miles on end, alongside a long, flat, boring road, with cars sailing past us, spewing exhaust, and making irritating noise. Why would anyone ever want to do that? “Well,” I said, trying to let her down as gently as possible, “I’m afraid that has no appeal for me whatsoever.”
Nevertheless, about a half a dozen years after first hearing about El Camino (“The Way,” the Spanish name for the pilgrimage route), I was a pilgrim. On June 24, 2006, after declaring some years earlier that I had no interest in walking for days on end, let alone across Spain in the hottest time of the summer, I voluntarily embarked upon a five-and-a-half-week adventure with my wife and two sons, ages eighteen and twenty. We were anxious, excited, and wary as we began, but there was no doubt in my mind. Going on pilgrimage was exactly what I wanted to do.
Reflecting on the Journey
Think about the times in your life when you suddenly were open to something new and different. What changed your mind or heart? What was it that finally set you free to move forward? What did it feel like to take that first step in a new direction or that next significant step on an already established path?
Maybe you did an about face, changing your mind to do something for God, yourself, or others that you didn’t think you would ever do—like joining a study group, volunteering, going to therapy, practicing a new spiritual discipline, or crossing some other threshold that, up to that point, had been too formidable to cross. Perhaps for years you had resisted change or felt defeated when you tried to move forward, and yet, all of a sudden, something shifted, and you took the next, significant step in your life. You ventured forward, maybe boldly, maybe with much trepidation. Perhaps you were excited, perhaps you were ambivalent, but you did it. Now, today, your life is different because you made a decision to finally listen to the inner prompting, and you took action.
Sometimes the most significant actions in our lives relate to major decisions—like choosing a major in college, starting or quitting a job, getting married, leaving a marriage, moving, changing churches, or having children. You turn a corner and find yourself headed in a new direction, associating with new people or doing different things. Maybe you knew what you were doing or maybe you had no idea what you were getting into, but you made your move, and your life was different.
Then there are the more subtle, but still significant, internal changes we make. We may adopt a new attitude, experience a change of heart, choose to act with more integrity, become more empathetic and compassionate. We may feel more open to God, desire to act more faithfully, place a higher value on our health or on caring for our environment. Something shifts and we suddenly see things differently. Our intentions change or become more powerful and we want to take steps to bring our life in better alignment with our values, desires, or vision.
Often, we can give very good reasons why we are making a certain decision or choosing to act in a new or more intentioned way. Other times, such as when I decided to go on pilgrimage, shifts take place in our lives, and we don’t really know why or how the changes came about. We may even surprise ourselves or act in a way that seems totally out of character. Or, if we can explain our new actions, we may not know why now and not ten years earlier or ten years later. Whatever the reasons, we feel different, are making different choices, and others around us may even be noticing how much we have changed.
I may never know all the forces that had been at work in my life for perhaps decades preparing me to say yes to the Camino. Was it unresolved grief over my mother’s tragic suffering with Alzheimer’s disease? Was I still looking for answers to the skin disease that threatened to end my life early, which was diagnosed the day after my first son was born? Maybe it was my increasing dissatisfaction with pat theological answers that put God in a box, a rigid paradigm that had led to disillusionment, frustration, and disappointments in my life and pastoral ministry? Was it my equally unsatisfying experience trying to think my way to God through graduate school or my limited ability to be the husband and father I wanted to be? All these factors, and others, had propelled me on my spiritual journey over the years, but what was driving me this time?
There is no question that my dissatisfaction with life and my spiritual questions have been continual prods, but I was drawn to pilgrimage by much more positive forces. More times than I can count I have experienced love and encouragement from God in the midst of unanswered questions and painful circumstances. These experiences have made me think that a more serious effort to seek God would lead to more insight and a deeper connection to God. My history of setting aside a week a year for spiritual reflection and prayer no doubt laid the groundwork for a five-week pilgrimage. Ever since my trip to Taizé, France, in 1998, I have come to love my annual spiritual retreats. I have become increasingly open and eager for more of what I might learn and experience by seeking God intentionally.
On the Camino, though motivations varied, most everyone, like me, was intent on getting something significant from the experience. Most were Europeans, and the majority was Spanish, but many came from as far north as the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Norway, and Russia. We even met a handful of Americans and Australians, who traveled thousands of miles just to make the journey.
Some were trying to make a new start, some were seeking clarity in their minds and hearts, others were looking for divine guidance, some wanted to get away from their normal environment to be out in nature, others were interested in walking in the steps of millions of other Christians, and still others were simply open to being surprised by God in some way. Many walked for nonspiritual reasons, too. School groups and bike clubs took to the trail for fun. Some were seeking an adventure. Others liked getting out of the house in the summer to enjoy the beauty and peace of the Camino. For some it was a cultural experience or a multigenerational family tradition.
In my case, once I decided to go on pilgrimage, I realized that, most of all, I wanted to seek guidance from God. I also wanted to be changed, but I didn’t know exactly how. I had enjoyed leading a nonprofit ministry and offering spiritual leadership to staff for more than ten years, but I had been feeling a strong yearning to devote more time to studying, writing, and teaching. Walking on pilgrimage seemed like a perfect opportunity to focus intensely on seeking God’s wisdom and guidance for the next phase of my life. I also hoped the experience would be a catalyst to personal growth in some way.
Throughout the pilgrimage, the image of crossing a huge bridge kept popping into my head. I had left behind the land from which I came and I was going to a new place. I was in neither the old nor the new world. I was moving and being moved along a path that would take me to a place that I could not yet envision. I was crossing over a chasm that separated one way of thinking and being in the world to another, though I could not know what the new way was going to be like.
Parts of me were greatly resisting. Even though I often felt dissatisfied with my life at home, it was familiar, and I had surrounded myself with many comforts to distract me from my periodic feelings of angst. I was also afraid of what might be on the other side of the bridge. What might God ask of me, if I trusted enough to keep walking on an unfamiliar path?
Yet, at the same time, I felt a push and a pull. My restlessness and desire for something more or different was almost compelling me to move forward. At the same time, some force, which I assumed was the Holy Spirit, was opening my heart and mind to new possibilities and drawing me to them. My life wasn’t being instantaneously changed. Rather, I was experiencing a slow process of transformation, which included periodically running back in the direction I had come from, before turning again to resume the journey.
Since returning home, I have come to understand, with the help of anthropologists, that I was going through a period of profound transition in my life, an extended liminal experience, which included changing jobs and entering the empty nest phase.1 Some of what I experienced on pilgrimage is unique to transitional phases and not characteristic of what we might think of as “normal” life. However, life is a series of large and small changes, too. We may not be continually changing jobs or significant relationships, but we all move from stage to stage in life and must negotiate many transitions. In addition, biblical writers call believers to continually seek greater maturity and spiritual transformation until we finally become like Christ—something that we fallible human pilgrims can at best pursue as an ongoing goal all of our lives.
Thus, I have come to realize that what I was doing on the Camino is a rare and intense form of what can be a way of life—intentionally and regularly pursuing a deeper relationship with God and ever deepening personal transformation. Most Christians will never be able to walk to Santiago de Compostela or any other significant holy site. Yet, could not everyone, even if they never leave their hometown, still live their life as spiritual pilgrims? Could we not learn to continually stay open to movement, as God leads us onto new or different paths, and across bridge after bridge, throughout our lifetime?
In practice, we may never be able to fully understand why we make the changes we do or why we finally become ready to take another significant step in our spiritual life. We may not know all of what is driving us or how God might be at work transforming us at any given juncture. We may not know how we got on any given bridge, let alone what lies on the other side.
What seems most important in our spiritual journey is simply heeding the call to take the next step forward . . . and then the one after that . . . and the one after that . . . in perpetual pursuit of a deeper relationship with God. As we seek to know and experience God more fully and to let ourselves be changed and grow, we may know only that we need to set our face forward and move—that it is time to take the next step.
Scripture for the Journey
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, biblical writers portray spiritual vitality in various ways, all of which come down to knowing and loving God, trusting in the love and grace of God, and seeking to serve God’s purposes with our life (Deut. 6:4–5; Mic. 6:8; Eph. 2:8–10). In the New Testament, spiritual vitality is rooted in Yahweh, the God of the Hebrew Scriptures; is intimately linked to Jesus Christ; and depends on the Holy Spirit, who grounds us in our present relationship with God and keeps us moving forward on our spiritual journey.
When we, as spiritual pilgrims, look to Scripture for guidance, we find a complementary balance between resting and moving, relying on God and taking action, enjoying the blessings of God and perpetually seeking more and all of what God intends for us. Jesus invited believers to find rest in him and to follow him (Matt. 11:28–30). The Holy Spirit has been given to us so that we can continue to grow in our relationship with God and to be transformed in our being and doing in the world (Gal. 5:22–23; 2 Pet. 1:3–10). Ultimately, when this life’s journey is finished, our final destination is to enter into the full presence of God, completely conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).
The balance between rest and movement can also be found in the writings of the apostle Paul, whose understanding of salvation is often described by scholars as “now and not yet.” On one hand, followers in Christ can experience grace, forgiveness, reassurance of eternal life, power, love, and the other fruit of the Holy Spirit in this life, now (Rom. 3:23–26; 6:23; 8:1–10; Gal. 5:22–23). However, at the same time we are still plagued by desires, thinking, and behavior that are contrary to God’s will and undermine our relationship with God, even when we want to do good (Rom. 7:21–23). Ultimately, Paul teaches, we must wait for the next life to be completely transformed with Christlike qualities, when we receive an immortal body (Rom. 8:11, 29; 1 Cor. 15:50–54; Phil. 3:20–21).
Thus, while we already experience great blessings through our faith and the Holy Spirit, much more still lies ahead—more growth, more freedom from sin, more knowledge and understanding of God, more experience with the love of Christ, and more ability to act justly and show mercy. A dynamic relationship with the Holy Spirit promises to change us from the inside out and transform our relationships with God and others, helping us become more and more like Christ.
Spiritual pilgrimage, then, is that quest for the “more.” It begins “now” and continues until we reach what is “not yet.” The pilgrim simultaneously rests in a present relationship with God and sets out in pursuit of God. Clearly, it is not as if God is out there somewhere hiding or in an obscure, distant land and needs to be found. God is within us as well as beyond us. Pilgrims seek more of the God who is already journeying with them.
For those ready to take the next step in their spiritual journey, biblical writers teach us that a good place to start is by opening our heart and mind to God as fully as possible, and by responding accordingly to whatever God may reveal. For example, as we allow ourselves to see our Creator more fully, we are likely to bend our knees in awe and gratitude to the Source of our life. As we are moved by the love of God, we may feel drawn to reach out to Love and to seek to be more filled with love ourselves. As we realize how much our spiritual vitality is affected by sin, we will acknowledge its presence, seek forgiveness from God, and turn away from it (repent). When we read in the New Testament that God has designated Jesus Christ to be the Savior of the world and leader for Christians, believers will respond with trust, allegiance, and devotion. As we come to perceive the work of the Holy Spirit (Christ’s Spirit) to empower, transform, and guide us from day to day, we may feel motivated to better listen to and keep in step with the Spirit.
Spiritual pilgrimage is about an inner journey of transformation that shows its fruit in our external world. As pilgrims, we pursue a deeper, more unified relationship with God, who is the Creator of the universe, the Savior of humanity, and the Holy Spirit. God precedes us, journeys with us, is the destination ahead of us, and simultaneously is both infinitely beyond us and present within us. On occasion we may have the opportunity to traverse an external, holy pathway (a pilgrimage route) for a fixed period of time. However, the more important inner journey, which spiritual pilgrims perpetually make over the course of their lifetime, is one of ever deepening personal and spiritual transformation.
So we read in the Psalms, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you [God], who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. . . . They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion” (Ps. 84:5, 7 NIV). For the ancient Hebrews, Zion referred both to the actual city of Jerusalem and the symbolic setting for the fulfillment of all God’s promises to Israel. The psalmist here portrays life as an ongoing journey, in which God is both the ultimate destination and the Presence who provides pilgrims with the strength needed to keep moving forward. Consequently, we who trust in God’s promises and know God in a deep, existential way are simultaneously at home with God, perpetually in pursuit of God, and dependent on God the whole way.
Jesus himself shows us how important it is to seek out God by modeling what we now call spiritual disciplines—practices such as solitude, prayer, Sabbath worship, serving the needy, fellowship, witness, and using spiritual gifts, among others still observed today.2 His extended times alone with God the Father seemed to be especially important to him, ahead of and in the midst of his uniquely demanding ministry.3
In the book of Hebrews, the writer sums up the value of pursuing God actively by simply saying, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (11:6 NIV). Elsewhere, the writer says, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (4:16 NIV). God is receptive to us and wants to help us in the ways we most need on the journey.
When the apostle Paul urged believers to actively seek a deeper connection with Christ as a way of life, he didn’t draw on the concept of spiritual pilgrimage. Instead, in the case of the Philippians, he used a citizenship metaphor to help them understand that their real home and destination was “heaven”—not an otherworldly place of escape but a different dimension of reality that has bearing on this life as well as the next. Paul wrote: “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20–21 NIV).
These verses help us by reminding us that there is a bigger reality that is relevant to us. We have a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the kingdom of God that stand in contrast to the Roman emperor of Paul’s day and any earthly political or social system. Paul is saying that Christ brings salvation with lasting transformation for those who trust in him. He also serves as the rightful leader of our lives who can guide us into the life we were meant to live, offering true hope for our deepest longings and eternal needs. Remembering that we are citizens of heaven reminds us to value our relationship with God, to look to Christ for hope, and to see ourselves first and foremost as people of faith in Christ’s service. To mix the citizenship and pilgrimage metaphors, all of life for a Christian can be seen as a long journey in which we are simultaneously at home in relationship to God through faith in Christ and continually heading toward our ultimate home.4
What is stirring within you? Do you feel a yearning to know and experience God more fully? Do you sense a prompting to make a change in your life or to seek transformation, even if you don’t know where the process may lead? The step you are considering may seem out of character for you or even weird to your friends or family, but perhaps a part of you wants something more or different, and you are ready to do something about it.
If this describes you, what action do you need to take in order to flow with the impulses arising within you? Whether you are considering a full-blown pilgrimage of some sort or are simply moving forward to adopt a new spiritual discipline or cultivate your spiritual life in some way, many of the same principles apply. Here are some recommendations based on my experience for the first (or next) steps on your spiritual pilgrimage.
Just Say Yes!
You may be concerned about what forces are prompting you and whether to trust your impulses. Wisdom does indeed suggest that one safeguards important decisions to some extent. By trying to be as self-aware and thoughtful as possible, you can make better choices about how to meet your needs and how to respond to your inner stirrings in healthful ways. You can also pray and seek godly counsel to help you discern what might be from God and what kind of action is likely to be most fruitful. The Bible is also an invaluable resource to help you know the actions that fit with spiritual maturity and to make it harder for you to deceive yourself with selfish or harmful impulses.
Yet, sometimes, you just need to let go and get going. The truth is, pilgrims don’t always need to know why they finally say yes to a new idea or inclination to seek God and make changes in their life. There are probably multiple influences at work within you, and God’s hand is often unseen. Sometimes when you feel the stirrings, the best thing is to simply say yes and then let God shape your heart and mind and guide your steps as you go forward.
Set a Direction
Sometimes our inner stirrings are vague longings or ideas, and other times we know exactly what we need. You don’t always need to have figured out the best way to go forward in order to get started on your journey, but having some direction is quite helpful.
When I started on pilgrimage, I had only a very general sense of what the specific journey might be about, but I had a direction. I knew I wanted to seek God in a more intentional way and to experience some kind of spiritual transformation, and I had chosen a specific spiritual discipline to help me. Spiritual pilgrimage is not about wandering aimlessly, but about seeking something and Someone of great value to us in the best ways we can over time.
Make a Plan
Positive thinking without a plan is a prescription for paralysis. Positive thinking with a plan puts you on a path to possibilities. (Do you like the alliteration?) First, make a firm decision to do something that you are not currently doing to pursue God in a fresh way, whether as a one-time, special endeavor or as a new way of living your life. Then, once you have committed yourself to action, figure out what it will take to make your plan a reality.
To set out in pursuit of God in a more intentional way, you can utilize any number of readily available spiritual exercises or tools, such as fasting, solitude, extended silence, a spiritual retreat, a mission trip, Bible studies, journal writing, daily devotions, walking meditatively, labyrinth walking, and other such practices. Pick something that is a stretch for you that will engage you for an extended period of time, both on a daily basis and for as many days as possible. The more frequently and the longer you practice a spiritual discipline, the more it will become a part of your life, and often the greater its effect.
If you don’t know what to do next, start praying for wisdom and seek the counsel of a pastor or some other spiritually mature individual. While you are searching, make visual reminders of your goals in order to prompt you to pray or make the call you think might be helpful in your process. Set aside times to explore specific opportunities. Tell someone else about your intention.
Once you have an idea of what you want to do, then you are ready to create a plan of action and think through what it will take to make it a reality. Where, when, how will you find the time, money, support needed to carry through on your idea? Ask others to pray with you to help make your vision a reality.
It is also important that you don’t just try to tack on some spiritual practice and otherwise leave your normal life intact. Something will have to give. Your plan needs to consider what will not be done if you take time for a new spiritual practice, so that you won’t add stress to your life by trying to do too much or neglect something important by not allotting enough time to another priority. For example, if you decide to take a thirty-minute prayer walk when you get home from working out each morning, but that is when you normally connect with your spouse, call your parents, or get ready for upcoming meetings, then find another way to adequately attend to these other values.
The general goal of seeking God can be vague, but the plan for your next steps should be very specific. Where are you going? When? With whom? What will you do there or on the way? How do you need to structure the time to best facilitate your connecting with God? If you will be doing your spiritual practice with others, such as on a retreat or pilgrimage, what parameters do you need to set on your interaction with them while you are there in order to stay focused?
Most spiritual practices can be done right at home, but if you get the chance to get away to do something special that would enhance your spiritual life, do it. One of the great things about actually leaving home, limiting our belongings to what could fit in a backpack, and traveling to a designated pilgrimage route in northern Spain was that it was easy to realize we were doing something different and special. You may have to work harder to create the same space and perception if you don’t walk the Camino, but it is worth the effort.
The more you can quietly focus your mind on God, let go of the preoccupations that normally clutter your heart and mind, and gently listen with a minimal number of distractions (home life is often full of them), the better the chance that you will actually be able to hear God’s voice or sense God’s moving within you. Rather than settling for “drive-by” praying, create a ritual of separating yourself from your normal routine to connect with God. For example, start with just two minutes (a full 120 seconds) and work your way up to twenty uninterrupted minutes a day for thirty days when you are fully engaged with God. In these times, focus on journaling, reading Scripture, or prayer. Even better would be to get away for at least overnight to a spiritual retreat center, campground, monastery, or some other special place. Have it in your mind when you go that you are going on a minipilgrimage—not a vacation, but a time to seek God with special focus and intention. Get caught up on sleep, relax, breathe deeply, go for a walk, and gently turn your attention to God.
Some day you may even want to walk an established pilgrimage route. If you are not able to take a big trek any time soon, you could do a segment of a known pilgrimage route with the time you do have available. In Spain, we met a number of pilgrims who would walk for a week or however much time they had one year, then come back another year to do the next portion.
Get a Guide
We had a very helpful guidebook with maps, details on towns, where to get food and water, where to find a bed, and some inspirational thoughts to ponder. When you are creating your own pilgrimage or devoting yourself to a new spiritual practice, I recommend consulting with a pastor, spiritual director, or retreat center first. Find someone who can help you envision what you hope to get out of the practice, who can give you tips along the way, and who will be available to help you debrief it afterwards. On an ongoing basis, my spiritual director is an important guide, among others, for my life as a pilgrim. We meet about once a month, and he helps me by listening for how God is at work in my life and by helping me learn to notice better for myself.
Ask Others to Join You
Consider asking companions to join you in the journey. There are pros and cons to going on pilgrimage with others, be it a walk around the block, a Bible study, a spiritual retreat, or something more extensive. At best, others can support you, share the experience with you, help you work out what you are learning along the way and afterwards, and provide community to bring out the social dimension of God’s activity and your personal transformation. At worst, they can be a distraction or stumbling block. If you succumb to their influence, you may allow yourself to be preoccupied with conversation, stuck in old ways of thinking and being in the world, or overly focused on your companions’ concerns and issues. If, on the other hand, you are able to let your interactions with others serve as testing ground to strengthen you in your new resolve to pursue a deeper relationship with God and personal transformation, then rubbing shoulders with companions could make you stronger. Apart from rare times of solitude in life, we all journey with others. One of life’s spiritual tasks is to learn how to do so well.
I was very glad my wife and sons accompanied me on the Camino for all the positive reasons listed above. In addition, I learned more about God and God’s love by interacting with them, whether the learning came from working through conflicts or just enjoying each other’s company. However, I also learned that I had to make a point of creating solitude for myself each day and to work harder to stay on track with the individual aspects of my pilgrimage.
In normal life, we are usually surrounded by other people and, to be active in a Christian community or church, we have to travel with fellow pilgrims. For most of us, traveling through life alone is neither an option nor is it necessarily desirable. Still, you can be intentional about whom you invite to share in the spiritual dimension of your life. Though you cannot pick who attends your church, you can choose your friends and those with whom you fellowship. You can seek out the company of certain individuals who will enhance your journey, and you can carve out time to be alone, when you need solitude and time to focus your attention just on God.
Make Room for God
Create space and maintain boundaries in your daily life in order to leave room for God. This practice is important in all dimensions of your life. If you are a people pleaser, you will be very vulnerable to the demands, real or imagined, of others. If you are overly task oriented, your endless to-do list will offer little or no space in your minds for quiet, for listening, or for God. Perpetually seeking God as a way of life requires learning to connect with God consciously and regularly in the midst of responsibilities and relationships as well as in the moments of quiet time and retreat.5
Prayer may sound passive, but it is not at all. When you consciously expresses your heart’s desire and intentionality, often something will shift within you. Aligning your words with what you sense to be the Spirit’s leading reinforces the work God is doing within you and enables you to move forward in sync with God’s prompting. Prayer can also allow you to realize your weaknesses and dependency on the Holy Spirit, prompting humility and moving you to seek God’s grace and help. When your prayer reaches this level of honesty, openness, humility, and intentionality, you have truly already taken significant steps on your spiritual pilgrimage.
One favorite prayer practice of my spiritual director, John Ackerman, is to put yourself in the place of Bartimaeus. Once when Jesus was walking from Jericho to Jerusalem, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting on the side of the road and started calling out to Jesus. No one could quiet him, he was so intent on being heard. Finally, when Jesus did hear him, he told him to come to him, and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus eagerly and quickly replied, “Let me see again” (Mark 10:51). Jesus then healed him.
Bartimaeus models for us eagerness to seek help from Jesus and willingness to express the desire of his heart. Try imagining that Jesus is asking you what you would like him to do for you. Answer from your heart, and notice what comes out of your mouth with energy. Let that desire turn into a daily prayer for a week, month, or as long as it takes for you to feel heard by Jesus. The Bartimaeus prayer is not a formula to get something from Jesus. Rather, it is a way of identifying what matters most to you and is stirring powerfully deep within you. Praying this way can also remind you that Jesus is eager for you to engage him with that level of authenticity. It is the beginning of a process of self-discovery and a dialogue with Christ, not the end.
I recommend starting the next phase of your pilgrimage with an accountability partner, someone with whom you will meet or talk regularly to help you stay on track with whatever steps you have set for your journey. Each of us must walk our own individual pilgrimage, but we do not and ought not to try to walk alone. Others are pursuing God all around you, and seeking out their support will strengthen you, help you sort out what you are experiencing, and help you avoid the discouragement or distractions that waylay many pilgrims, as Jesus’s parable of the sower warns.
What other help and support do you imagine you will need that is not covered by the suggestions already given? Whatever you think you need, ask others for help. The right kind of accountability and support will greatly increase your chances of following through on your plan and enhancing your spiritual journey.
For Further Reflection
FRIDAY, APRIL 28, 2006. DEEPHAVEN, MINNESOTA. (Journal entry, written two months before leaving on pilgrimage.) I suspect the main reason I need to go on pilgrimage is to separate myself from my normal world almost entirely. I will set down every commitment and habit and attachment. When I get home, I will be in a much better position to know what I want to pick up again. I pray that I will be better positioned to move with greater determination and force. Ah ha. I’m seeking my own transformation—to move powerfully out of the inertia that holds me prisoner in my current lifestyle more into the life that will bring greater satisfaction and meaning.
Use the journal excerpt above and the following questions to guide your journal writing. Discuss your thoughts, feelings, and intentions with some fellow pilgrims from your spiritual community.
- What is stirring within me to which I need or want to say yes?
- What spiritual practice has recently been suggested to me or has popped into my head that seems like the right thing for me to do next on my spiritual journey?
- What specifically am I going to do? What is my next step? When will I take it? Whom will I tell?
- What support will I need to take the next step in my spiritual life? Who will be my accountability partner(s)? How will I get and ask for the help I need?
- What other thoughts were prompted by this chapter on taking the next step on my spiritual journey that I want to think more about or act on?