Lent Reflections #2: To be a pilgrim

‘Perhaps, like motherhood, pilgrimage occurs despite imperfect circumstances and inconvenient timing. Perhaps like motherhood, there is really no set of rules that qualifies you to be a pilgrim. Perhaps there are as many ways of being a pilgrim as there are of being a mother.’  

Maggi Dawn, The Accidental Pilgrim 

I’m in a season of mothers and pilgrimage. The circumstances are imperfect and the timing is inconvenient. My own mother has been unwell. Ageing does that to a person. I’m feeling that ‘sandwich generation’ pressure of trying to meet the needs of my parents and those of my children at the same time. I juggle meetings and schedules and child care to allow me to be with my mother as much as I can. I then plan the time I’ll have with my children only to find at the end of a busy day with them that my phone is full of  messages from my parents wanting to know why I’ve not been in touch with them all day.  Fighting back irritation I sit down on the sofa, wrap myself in a blanket and make the call to chat about their day and my mother’s pain, field the questions about why I’m not coming to visit again soon ( I am taking my children away for a few days holiday), and express my love for both of them.

It’s hard. I know that this is a common life stage, but a little like having children, until you experience it, there is a whole swathe of life which you cannot even begin to imagine until you are right in the middle of it.  It’s hard. Have I already said that ? It bears repeating.

And I keep worrying about whether I’m getting it right. Am I being a good enough daughter? Is this how I should balance the demands ? Is it ok for me to say no ? Where’s the rule book ?

And in this season of mothers and mothering I am also in a season of pilgrimage.  It’s Lent and since I last wrote on Ash Wednesday, four more days have passed. We are four days further on in our journey to Easter and resurrection. And in those four days I’ve had a number of conversations with friends about Lent. Most ask the question ‘What are you doing for Lent?’ We have some sort of expectation that there is a way to ‘do Lent’ properly. Mostly we believe we should give up something ‘bad’, or if giving up is too puritanical, then we should take up something ‘good’. And I’m struck by Maggi Dawn’s words that there are as many ways to be a pilgrim as to be a mother. There are no rules. Each mother (we can all think of our own) is or was a unique blend of personality, passions, upbringing, circumstances and their time in history. So too as pilgrims I am not you, and we will journey very differently. A pilgrim is someone on a journey to a sacred place. Pilgrim does not describe how how they get there or what they do on the journey.

So I want to share a little of what my pilgrimage looks like through this season.  It’s personal, and sharing it feels vulnerable  but actually I want you to know that pilgrimage is as hard and conflicting and good and revealing of our true selves, as mothering is or having a mother is ! Mine is a pilgrimage on a journey to forgiveness. A journey to the foot of the cross. A journey to letting go.

I wrote last time about the dream I had the night before Ash Wednesday. Somehow that  vivid dream of forgiveness propelled me to church later that morning to an Ash Wednesday communion service. I’d never been to one before in my life, but I knew it was where I was to go. That’s part of my pilgrimage. Listening to the prompts, feelings the nudges and going with my instincts.

I slipped into the service moments after it began and was welcomed by smiles. The bible reading was about the woman caught in the act of adultery and brought before Jesus by a group of angry men who wanted to stone her. My story means that that passage has a very powerful resonance for me. I step into the story every time I hear it. I feel the eyes on me. I don’t want to look at Jesus. I worry about what will happen next even though I know how it ends. All the men who want to stone the woman are challenged by Jesus. He suggests that whoever of them hasn’t ever done wrong should be the one to throw the first stone. The bible tells us that the older ones left first, followed by the younger men eventually. Only Jesus was left. He didn’t pick up any stones either. The woman left , not condemned, but freed to live her life in a different way. ( You’ll find the story here).

The minster leading the service began to speak. “I love this story”, he began. For him it was all about love. All about how we are to put aside judgement. We are to love not judge. And in that moment I realised that part of my reason for holding on to so much unforgiveness is that I have held a (false) belief that I am the judge. That I can determine whether or not things were right or wrong and also whether justice has been done. As I sat in the church on Wednesday I realised that I’ve got to let that go. If I keep hold of that notion I will never be satisfied. Things will never be as I want them. Justice for me would look like all kinds of highly unrealistic scenarios that are never going to happen because we are all flawed people.

I realised that a bit like the people in the bible who Jesus heals from physical problems – the lame, the deaf, the blind, I need healing from spiritual disease. And when Jesus asked what I always have thought to be a ridiculous question ‘Do you want to be made well?’ – it is not ridiculous when asked of me. I have not wanted to be made well for the past few years. I’ve wanted to find my own way through to justice or revenge or hurt or whatever I thought I was going to get. I’ve not wanted to forgive. I’ve barely even understood why I should. But now ? Now I want to be made well. I want to let go of my desire to judge.

As I sat there on Ash Wednesday with a reminder on my forehead that I am made from dust and will return to dust I knew that I just wanted to be made well again by Jesus who doesn’t condemn me. I want to be whole again.


to be continued …..


I am linking today with #givemegrace and Lisha Epperson






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