Friesen is a retired educator, pastor, counselor living in Schowalter Villa where he may be reached at 327 Lake Vista Ct., Hesston, KS 67062 or email. Walt and wife Carol participated in the 25-person study tour, Retrace of the Great Trek, to the Ukraine and Uzbekistan, May 25-June 9, 2007.
We are speechless in wonder at the orderly annual migrations of geese, humming birds, monarch butterflies, salmon, and whales crossing international boundaries and braving perilous obstacles to return to ancient spawning-breeding-nesting grounds. What drives them inexorably homeward to their origins? What is the void that must be filled for life to be completed? Is there a corresponding need and longing in our human spirits?
My childrenRandal, Nancy, Jennyused to smile at each other knowingly and wait alertly for the moment, the location, when at the wheel of our 1960 Chevy I would become aware that I had steadily increased my speed from 60 to 80 mph on our homeward way to Meade, Kansas, to visit family and for me to touch once more the soil where I did most of my growing up. Children would laugh, and Carol at my side obligingly recited, in Low German, "The horse goes faster the nearer it gets home." I back off a bit embarrassed, a bit amused.
Heimweh, longing for at-homeness, plays most prominently in the story of our ancestors who in 1880-84 participated in that uncommon migration eastward from the Molotschna and Am Trakt colonies in Russia to the ancient and mystical cultures of the Silk Road cities Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva to find, at last, their own "place just right in the valley of love and delight." (Shaker folk song.)
This driving homesickness (Heimweh) had two very important and distinguishable elements: (1) to find a physical place, a new homeland to own and improve, to build enduring community, to be a people of God committed to truth and peace, following the way of Christ; and (2) to become the special, prized, chosen spiritual community referred to in holy whispers as the "Bride of Christ."
I do not understand myself well without attention to this personal history and its roots in the narratives of my ancestors.
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A pilgrimage is an intentional physical visit to a geographical place where historical events of life-shaping significance have their roots. Such events are a key to the legend and self narrative through which we name and identify ourselves. Such sites/events are forces in the shaping of our personalities, influencing our choices, forming our world view, and shaping the burdens we make our own. Yet for all that, they remain a source of deep mystery and lure. They are dots on our journey and enable us to connect the dots of our trails and to imagine our futures as trajectories. These are places and events that cannot be ignored or denied without cost.
Healing consists in events that allow the brain's awesome "central station" actively to reconnect and reintegrate tissues, organs, memories, and learnings of the body that have been injured, dislocated, disconnected, or diseased and malfunctioning. Healing is all about restoration and the recovery of wholeness, balance, bodies, minds, and souls.
What are likely conditions of pilgrimages that foster such wholeness?
1. An awareness of a hunger and longing, perhaps of brokenness, emptiness, or disjunction within. It may be awareness of ignorance, lack of a mental map, paucity of images. It may be a vague, or even acute, awareness of deliberate silence and secrecy about people and key eventsrumored but never discussed and incorporated. Or, if incorporated, built into the telling narrative as pre-scripted canned/sealed elements whose contents are labeled but not openable for examination or reinterpretation.
2. By contrast, some healing pilgrimages are undertaken because significant others on their journeys experienced healing, joys, satisfaction, deepening of their spirit. Their testaments ignite our own curiosities and awaken compassion in us. So, whether by awareness of emptiness and illness in us or by way of others' witness to joys and meanings, our curiosities and compassions unite to give us courage to visit and reclaim un-annexed events in our lives.
3. As pilgrims we experience vulnerability to the uncertainties of the unknowns in ourselves as well as the unpredictables in the places/events to be revisited. Without the courage of self-exposure, risk, and vulnerability, our pilgrimage is not likely to bring much healing or deepening of the spirit.
4. Successful pilgrims reveal a valorous commitment to integrity that characterizes their journey toward wholeness. Pre-judged, pre-conceived, doctrinal meanings and categories must surrender to the courageous decision that no unexaminable "second-hand" meanings are adequate foundations and that their own experiences/events must remain open-ended rather than closed so that the emerging newness will become authentically formed from within. Such pilgrims are amused by contrived interpretations which they discount with grace.
5. Successful pilgrims seek and find freedom to see, to think, to question, to become engaged without fear. They look for and enjoy encounters wherever they go. They eagerly look for unplanned, serendipitous events to become rich elements of the discovery journeywhether the beautiful, unimaginable events that bud and flower brilliantly or the vexatious, troublesome, getting-in-the-way experiences of travel and daily chores that reveal their inner darknesses. They know that the cost of their freedom is full responsibility.
6. Powerful, formative pilgrimage is itself in its entirety a ritual of discoveringness and faith embrace. It is almost certain that on the authentic journey there will also be moments in which a revealing, enlightening, serendipitous moment demands attention and seeks to be ritualized for commemoration and preservation. A ritual is a physical action flowing form deep within and having a spontaneous, unguarded quality to it which gives it authentic meaning. Or it may be an old, well-rehearsed, and frequently enacted gesture which is suddenly, brilliantly flooded with new meaning. The ritual may also have been imagined, invested, and contemplated in advance but with the location and the moment for its expression all unknown. Healing pilgrimage is thus marked and blessed with rituals and symbolnot to close the book but to keep it openable.
7. Healing pilgrimages strongly feature the paradox that while new data and new insights add in an exponential manner to the complexity, variety, and eternal branchingness of life, that dynamic movement is always also toward unity, connectedness, and ultimate singularity. This strange paradoxical light of simultaneous complexification and singularity streams, apparently, from the Original Source, a joyous pay-off of real faith.
The story of Jesus and the woman from Sychar at Jacob's well in Samaria (John 4) is a glorious example of complexification and singularity invoking a new self-narrative so transforming that it changed forever a whole community!
Likewise also, Rollo May's story of a healed woman is the same. The 22-year-old had an utterly destructive, life-quenching self-narrative she could never escape: "I am an illegitimate child." Then, one day after another hour with her therapist when she was walking alone under the elevated in New York City she throbbed within her the deadly song once more with every step. Suddenly she was stopped in her tracks: "Child? I'm not a child; I'm 22 years old." With the all consuming destructive sentence now interrupted by the deletion of "child" she staggered a few more steps before being stopped in her tracks and this deadly narrativehung mid-aironce more: "Illegitimate? That has something to do with being born; I'm 22 years old." That left, finally, only the ubiquitous, deeply healing, profoundly connecting universal healing realization: "I Am." Such I Am events include and embrace everything in the pure light of belovedness.
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A spiritual pilgrimage is not limited to far off Jerusalem, Mecca, Goshen, Hillsboro, or Khiva. It can also be our experience walking to the farthest corner of the old pasture; or sitting in silence in the sanctuary where we said "yes" to God; walking a mile to where the one-room Harmony School House once stood; revisiting a sacred rock in the mountains where we promised our hearts and lives; or perhaps, re-reading old familiar personal treasuries where deepened meanings and insights suddenly, vividly brighten the night-times of our souls. Spiritual pilgrimage has no boundaries.
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