Pilgrimage to Where?

Posted by Melvin Bray on February 15th, 2006 filed in Useful Perhaps

Somewhere along the way Christians seem to have decided that the goal of a consecrated life was to escape this world. What’s that about? Didn’t God create this world and us as a part of it?

As I’ve started to grow in a missional way of seeing things, I’ve gone back to re-evaluate some of the familiar metaphor that has shaped my life to this point. One in particular is the metaphor of pilgrimage.

My fore-parents sang the song “I’m on My Way to Canaan Land.” The song admonishes that even “if my mother don’t go I’ll [need to] journey on.” They also told me that “this world is not my home.” It is with these presuppositions that I set out with John Bunyan’s Christian, leaving behind the City of Destruction, which I interpreted to be “this world and all it has to offer me,” in search of the Celestial City, which I assumed would be Heaven. With a theology such as this, no wonder escape-the-world, ignore-the-world or exploit-the-world’s-resources seems consistent with the save-the-world calling most Christians also claim.

Nowadays I don’t interpret things quite the same way, but instead of dismissing my former conceptions as total bunk (which seems to me even more ridiculous) I’ve chosen rather to reframe my understanding of this pilgrim metaphor that has been handed down to me. What if “Canaan Land”—our metaphoric Promised Land (as pledged by God to the Jews)—is not heaven but the earth made new? It’s not such a novel idea; the biblical canon ends with this thought. Taking it a step further, what if the journey from this world to the next that Moses and Mohammad and the Buddha and Confucius and (in my estimation most fully) Jesus embodied is not an abandonment of the world as it is but an embrace of all she was created to become? Our pilgrimage then would be in our hopefully ever-expanding ability to perceive and understand and embrace and appreciate this new world… and to help bring it into existence.

I don’t know about you, but I find such thoughts wonderfully liberating and pregnant with possibility. It also makes me wonder whether my previously more narrow and flattened interpretations of the truths hand down to me hasn’t been a diminution of my forebears wisdom: my own self-serving ideas of what was meant and not actually what was being communicated to me.

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