by Timi Vann
Last week I asked my 11-year-old twins what came to mind when they heard the word “pilgrimage.” Olivia said she thought of the rock band Journey. Sophia said she thought of a nun climbing a mountain. I chuckled and thought how unconventionally perfect! This time last year, the girls and I were traveling as part of the support team for the inaugural Youth Creation Care Pilgrimage. We didn’t listen to any rock songs by Journey, and we didn’t see any nuns climbing mountains, but it was without a doubt a time of journeying and spiritual exploration wrapped in wonder, love, and praise for God’s magnificent creation.
We were energized and shaped by the experience, and we looked forward to this year’s pilgrimage to the San Juan Islands. But then we blinked, and life changed in every way. Last year we stood on the docks in Port Angeles and peered through microscopes to discover the amazing world of phytoplankton. This year our world was turned upside down and inside out by a virus that is impossible to see at any magnification with an optical microscope. We could have never imagined that in less than 365 days, something so small could make our world so hugely different.
This virus has forced us to rethink our notions about school, work, church, community, and family. It has also forced us to rethink our more traditional definitions of pilgrimage. I wondered what it might mean to be a pilgrim in the time of pandemic. Is that even possible? As we are reminded, anything is possible with God’s help. We just have to be open to thinking, and seeing, and being and doing life in ways that are new. We have to be willing to shift our perspective and see things differently. It seems to me that all of these things are very much part of a spiritual journey. So maybe we are on a pilgrimage right now and right where we are. I can think of this as a journey because I have shifted my perspective and notions of what a journey is. This journey is a pilgrimage because I have shifted my perspective and notions of what is holy place and space. This journeying has been hard and full of loss and sorrows that have tested my strength, endurance and faith. But the Holy is here—right where we are right now. We just need to look and be open to see and embrace with open arms.
This morning I woke up and told my girls “I’m so glad you’re in my bubble!” We donned our face masks and took a walk. We weren’t walking the lush forest pathway of last year’s pilgrimage or breathing in the saltwater air of the San Juan Islands like we hoped for this year. But as we meandered our way through the neighborhood, we took in the colors and patterns of nature. We looked closely and saw a busy bee filling her pollen basket and we noticed the interesting textures of trees and flowers. We stopped to look at plants up close. By shifting our perspective just a bit, we were able to notice beautiful geometric lines and shapes. We marveled at the wonder of creation.
We entered Yesler Swamp and followed the boardwalk. We heard the birds sing and the ducks quack. We observed the motionless turtle quietly sunbathing on a log. We looked at the neighborhood landscape as we have a hundred times before except that today, we actually paid attention. We saw it anew, and it was good.
God is present in the front yard garden, the urban swampland, the remote forest and the Salish Sea. Our challenge is to find those sacred spaces in the corners of our imagination as well as the out of doors. So, take a moment to pause, close your eyes, breathe, feel, and listen. Where does your imagination take you? Where might you see and feel and know God in that space? Journey there, pilgrim.
If you can imagine it, you might very well be that nun on a mountain hike. She feels the warmth of the sun on her face. She smells the sweet air of the forest pines. She rests on a rock and lets the cool mountain spring waters wash over her feet. As she sits, she hears the birds sing and she starts to sing too. In my mind I hear her humming a Journey song.
Here I stand so patiently
For your lights to shine on me
For your song inside of me
This we bring to you
We aren’t traveling as pilgrims on the Olympic Discovery trail like we were last year, but we are traveling as pilgrims and discovering new sanctuary spaces within which we feel and know the love of God in creation. Visualize yourself on a here and now pilgrimage. Discover, wonder, love, and live life in abundance!
Timi Vann is a mother, wife, and a dedicated public servant with the National Ocean Service. She is committed to the stewardship of Creation, finds joy in nature, and is inspired by the hopes, ideas, talents and passion of our youth. Timi contributed scientific programming and coordinated indigenous community engagement for the 2019 Youth Creation Care Pilgrimage.