A reflection on the CCJ Presidents’ “Pilgrimage in Lockdown”

Posted Wed, 06/24/2020 - 14:57 by MCS

The Rt Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave OBE, Chair of CCJ, writes: 

For me as a Christian, the discipline of pilgrimage speaks to the interior journey of the heart as much as to any physical travel or destination. Within the constrained and confined spaces that we have been subject to under lockdown, this idea of pilgrimage resonates in a new way. A short trip to the local shops, a walk to a park, to the grounds of a local church or synagogue, however brief – all are charged with possibilities for reflection. The great paradox of pilgrimage is that one may journey to Canterbury, to Lourdes, to Jerusalem, with all the exterior changes that such travels entail, but the reality of who we are in our humanity is only capable of being transformed when we come to be still before the one, unchanging God. The three biblical ‘pilgrimage festivals’ served precisely to fulfil the command to ‘be seen’ in the presence of God: sometimes, the very task of moving is what is required for us to be still before God.

For so many of us, lockdown has been an apocalypse in the truest meaning of that word: a revelation of what is important to us. It has indeed been a journey of the heart in exposing our dependencies and priorities, for good or ill. This apocalypse is an opportunity for God to speak, and for us to take the time to listen. Our CCJ Presidents’ short pilgrimages within the limits of lockdown can help us look with fresh eyes at the significance of workers too readily overlooked, at the beauty and gift of our created environment, at the dignity of those who are suffering, and of those who care for them. Their reflections provide us with an opportunity to accompany people on a search for what is good, true, and beautiful, knowing and discovering afresh that their source is God. The great Israeli novelist Amos Oz wrote: ‘Some books are universal precisely because they are so provincial and spacious precisely because they are so minimalist.’ These journeys and stories have been resolutely provincial, but their minimalist details have opened doors into the capaciousness of God.

One of the most serious threats posed to us by lockdown has been the danger that it might constrain our friendships. However, as Jews and Christians have reflected alongside each other in these pilgrimages, a measure of mutual companionship across our traditions has been modelled to us. This companionship is one replete with familiarities, but also strangeness. Pilgrimage has the habit of making what is familiar strange, and the strange somehow familiar. As T. S. Eliot put it in his poem Little Gidding: ‘And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.’ In our common and differing vocations to be witnesses to God in the world, as pilgrims on life’s sacred journey, we give thanks for one another, and we pray:

‘Make us remain close together in prayer and loving kindness,
and guide all our footsteps, so that we may return home in safety,
and dwell under the wings of your peace for evermore’.