It’s almost summer in Canada. We’ve made it through a long winter, and our snow boots, winter parkas and toques are all packed away. With the warmer weather our thoughts naturally turn to holidays. Now if we decided to take a week’s holidays in June in Canada, where would we go? What would we do? Canada is such an amazing country, and there is so much to see and do. No doubt those incredible experiences we would want to capture on our phone and instantly share with family and friends on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.
Now what if someone told you that he or she going to spend a week’s holidays by walking 170 kilometers from Toronto to the Martyr’s Shrine in Midland? This person would be walking with people they did not really know through all kinds of weather. They would have no idea of the route they would be taking, the foods they would be eating, and where they would be actually sleeping. The person would also be walking 25 to 30 kilometers a day with no watches, cameras, cell phones or electronics of any kind.
If you are like most people, the first question that would come to mind would be “WHY”! When you look at society, the vast majority of people want to make their lives softer, easier and more convenient. But when I met up with a group of 24 pilgrims from St. Barnabas Catholic Church in Scarborough the day before finishing their 170 kilometer journey, their joy radiated from deep within. Stripped away from all the worldly clutter for a week, it blew me away how happy and contented they were.
I first learned about the Pilgrimage from Reverend Father Hansoo Park, of the St. Barnabas parish. He had found me while I was doing my school crosswalk duties. Father Hansoo had been asking around my little village in Hillsdale who to contact in the Hillsdale church and that is how he found me. Personally I was more than happy to have the group stay a night at the church I Pastor, but I needed to run it by my little church. The congregation were more than happy to say yes. We are a very small congregation and don’t have much to offer. But when I showed Father Hansoo around, he was extremely pleased.
The word Pilgrimage is defined as “A journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of devotion”. And through the Pilgrimage it is a way of drawing closer to God. But in order for this to happen there needs to be some letting go of our own worldly desires. It might mean slowing down from the non stop go-go life, and even walking away from all those post-it notes or digital reminders containing lists of things to do RIGHT NOW, errands to run, random to-do’s that are moved from one list to another and are never managed to be completed. It means giving up those life “necessities” that make our life easier. It might mean leaving that comfortable bed in a climate controlled house, apartment, or hotel and sleeping on something more spartan. Or instead of driving that car, truck or SUV, we take that trip by walking or cycling. When we deep down think about it, when we travel to and fro from place to place in a private vehicle, we are sitting in a comfortable seat while dragging around 2,000 pounds to 3,000 pounds (often much more) of steel with us wherever we go. A National Household Travel Survey came to the conclusion that “60% of trips of a mile or less are travelled in private vehicles like cars, pick-up trucks and SUV’s”. And environmentally, Jenny Green of Sciencing Magazine mentions that “cars and trucks contribute 20% of the United States total global warming pollution. They are the single largest contributor of air pollution in the United States”.
For the Pilgrims it also meant giving up their watches, cell phones, and all other forms of electronics for the week. There are so many great articles that talk about the great benefits of becoming “unplugged” from our smartphones and social media. I love this article from HuffPost which quotes “Your worth is not measured in likes, comments, notes or followers; but in your ability to love, keep comments to yourself, take note and lead”. I personally have chosen not to have media on my phone. I have enough of a struggle from spending more time than I should on Twitter with a desktop computer. As a runner, I find Twitter to have an amazing running community. But when I do give it up for a week or two, I find it very liberating. For some, to unplug for a digital detox will be one of the hardest things they have ever done.
I think of a person by the name of Dolores Hart who walked away from a successful, high in demand Hollywood acting career with all its worldly acclaim and wealth to live a contemplative life serving God as an American Roman Catholic Benedictine nun. As an actress Dolores Hart made it big in 10 movies in 5 years playing opposite Stephen Boyd , Montgomery Clift , George Hamilton and Robert Wagner in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. She made her movie debut with Elvis Presley where she once shared an on-screen kiss with. But at 24 years old while engaged to become married, she made a vow to become a cloistered ( meaning religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience) nun. And she never turned back.
The year 2016 marked the Golden Jubilee Year of Mother Dolores Hart who celebrated 50 years of Vowed life at the Abbey of Regina Laudis. In 2012 a documentary was made on her life titled “God is the Bigger Elvis“. It was nominated that year for the Best Short Documentary. Mother Dolores attended the awards. Her last previous red carpet Oscar event had been in 1959 as a Hollywood starlet. In 2013 Mother Dolores’ acclaimed autobiography was released titled “Ear of the Heart: An Actress Journey from Hollywood to Holy Vows“. It was co-authored by life long friend Richard DeNeut. Fifty years is such a long time to live a contemplative life. But for Mother Delores Hart, she has had no regrets.
So I walked in to the church I pastor, and met for the 1st time the group of pilgrims that had been walking for nearly a week. Free from the trappings of modern society and the too-cluttered hectic activities that tend to crowd our days. Though the pilgrims were outwardly exhausted and many were physically hurting, there was a deep inner joy throughout the entire group. Personal egos and posturing were completely absent. After father Hansoo introduced me, pilgrims were coming over to shake my hand and profusely thank me for opening up the church basement as shelter for the night. The shelter consisted of sleeping on the original century old spartan, hardwood plank floors laid back in the day over the cold, damp earth. There was one tiny washroom with a sink and toilet to be shared among the 24 pilgrims.
I was serenaded with an incredibly enthusiastic and joyous Christian song and was invited to join the pilgrims to share in their simple supper. During the supper meal there was some announcements for the pilgrims. After supper there was to be devotions. Bed time was to be 8:30 PM and a wake call for 2:30 the next morning. After supper I excused myself and gave a wave and “nice meeting you all” to everyone, and once again many pilgrims came over to me to shake my hand and thank me so much for the shelter for the night.
It was an amazing experience to feel the humility of the group. These dear pilgrims gave up a week’s holidays. They had been walking for days through cold, frosty mornings, downpouring rain, biting insects, hunger and hot afternoon sun. Stripping away all those layers of self sufficiency and the creature comforts we grow so accustomed to, the pilgrims were sharing in their suffering. And in doing so they had grown closer to God.
As Christians, we are all Pilgrims passing through this world until we reach our final destination which is Heaven. We might think our lives are all mapped out, but in all reality we really don’t know what could happen tomorrow. Life can get really hectic. And it is so easy to allow the temporal pleasures of this world to distract us from God and our final destination. For some, finding faith amidst the chaos might mean a clear calling to become a cloistered nun. Others might feel called to embark on a 170 kilometer Pilgrimage to a Holy Place. Reconnecting with God takes sacrifice. Even though you may not become a cloistered nun, or go on a 170 kilometer pilgrimage, we can all (and should) make sacrifices. It may mean disconnecting from social media and electronics for a day or more. Or walking instead of driving. And during those precious moments we listen to God’s still, small voice. God is with us all the time. And when we remove all those other distractions that crowd our lives, we will begin to experience God in a powerful and meaningful way. Just like I witnessed on the contented faces of those 24 Pilgrims.