I was part of a group of ministers in 2010 who went to Israel together on a pilgrimage.
We were all Protestants – Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, UCC and Episcopalians, along with one Mennonite for good measure. We were used to going on trips as church leaders, but this was different. We went as pilgrims.
Pilgrimage is not a familiar term for Protestants and surely not Baptists. A friend of mine once said our spirituality is “extroverted, programmatic and evangelistic.”
Being silent, mystical contemplation and things like pilgrimage smacked of Catholicism. When I was growing up, that was negative, even if I didn’t have a clue why.
In recent years, the notion of a more reflective faith has become more comfortable for me.
My heritage was a good one; we learned the Bible, we were experts in fellowship and acts of mercy to people in need. We were the gold standard for organizing to get things done.
On this trip in 2010, though, we were invited to a different pace. We did not rush around to see as much as we could cram into our time. We were given time to reflect.
We walked into old Jerusalem singing and praying as we walked, reading the gospel story at each traditional site leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
One morning, we got up at dawn and met the priest who managed the guesthouse where we were staying, the Notre Dame Center of Jerusalem, across the street from one of the entrance gates to the Old City.
He had invited us up to the roof just before dawn for an orientation to the city. From that place, we could see from the Mount of Olives to the Dome of the Rock, where the ancient temple of Herod stood and the temple of Solomon before that.
He walked us through the last week of Jesus’ life, ending with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
On which site, Queen Helena originally had a church built in the fourth century to mark the spot where Christ died and was buried, according to local tradition at the time.
He turned to us after the stunning retelling of the story we’d known all of our lives, looked at us intently, and said, “Don’t forget. You are not here for a tour. You have come here to meet the Risen Christ.”
The power of his sentence has stayed with me.
The invitation of God is to a journey. It is important that we regularly consider making space for a journey to seek and follow the Risen Christ.
The late Robert Mulholland’s book, “Invitation to a Journey,” is an excellent resource that calls us to invest in our spiritual lives, exploring the personal journey of a disciple and considering how the Holy Spirit is at work in us to lead us to meaningful lives for the Lord.
In his book, “Simply Christian,” N.T. Wright says four traces of the call of God exist in every human being. They are the echoes of the Creator’s voice in us.
- The longing for justice
- The quest for true spirituality
- The hunger for relationship
- The delight of beauty
These four echoes are truly the best of what it means to be a human being. Since then – if they truly represent God’s highest purposes in life – those of us who aspire to that life should see evidence of these things as we make progress.
If we want to counter the ugliness of the present moment and avoid the despair of our violent culture, we should consider making these four things the focus of our activity and choices.
Ask yourself, what leads you to one or all of them? Take these paths and you will have a plan to resist the darkness and shallowness of our current culture.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on Vestavia Hill Baptist Church’s pastor’s page. It is used with permission.
Gary Furr is pastor of Vestavia Hills Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.