The J2A pilgrimage ended Thursday at the airport with 20 bedraggled and jet lagged pilgrims stumbling into the arms of friends and loved ones. It was a happy moment, the culmination of nearly two full weeks together and over two full years of preparation and planning, and I smiled through tears as I said farewell to each one.
Our journey took us to the heights of windswept peaks and along rocky trails to crystal clear mountain streams. We tasted the world at night markets and wandered through the smoke and incense of other people’s faithfulness. We were confronted by beauty, danger, confusion and joy and the encounters left behind deep impressions and memories to unravel for years to come. As with past pilgrimages, the impact of this one will be known in the telling and over time as the stories and remembrances work their way into and ultimately shape our pilgrims. And in that way, as with any journey, it is not fully over.
I invite you to chat our pilgrims up. Ask what they saw, heard, tasted, and smelled. Ask if they were challenged or if they grew. Ask if they had interesting conversations or encountered something different or new. There are lots of stories to be told and the more we hear them, the more this pilgrimage will shape our whole community.
For me the pilgrimage, as with so much of life, was about the community I travelled with, and the profound sense that God was in our midst and on the journey with us. Near the end of the trip we retreated to the Taipei Botanical Gardens for some time of quiet reflection. We had the group split up and find a corner of the gardens to sit in silence to think and to pray. As the leaders wandered the garden, we were all taken as we rounded a corner or turned a bend and found yet another pilgrim, knees to chest, tucked in to the lee of a tree or under the protective cover of a trellis or pagoda keeping out of the drizzle. Bumping into our dispersed community in each instance in the garden was, for me, a real bright spot on the trip. Each time I encountered the face of a pilgrim in faithful reflection I felt I had encountered the face of Christ. Then, as we prepared to leave, the skies opened and we were caught in an amazing deluge of rain of monsoon proportions. As we dashed through the cleansing rain to the safety of a coffee shop, I relished even more the the sense that we were a holy community, very much a reflection of the body of Christ, our laughter and excitement infused with the presence of the Spirit of God.
I am so grateful for this time on pilgrimage with our youth, just as I have been so grateful to serve at St. Alban’s Parish. Again, thank you. Peace be with all of you (and amidst especially our returned pilgrims) as you continue to sojourn together in this journey of faith. May the blessings of God be ever with wherever you go – together or apart.