Psalm 122: Going on a Pilgrimage
Right now I would be glad to go on pilgrimage to anywhere far from the threat of COVID 19. That would be reason to rejoice like the writer of Psalm 122. “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” (1) That isn’t possible as no place on earth is safe from this virus. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to go on a pilgrimage.
Psalm 122 is a song of ascent, written by a pilgrim to Jerusalem after the exile. The writer is happy to go to Jerusalem, the holy city. “Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!” (2) He extols the virtues of the city, “Jerusalem, built as a city which is bound firmly together to which the tribes go up . . . to give thanks to the name of the Lord.” (3-4) He then asks for prayers for the city, something needed back then and today. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! ‘May they prosper who love you! Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers!’ For my brethren and companions’ sake, I will say, ‘Peace be within you!’” (6-8)
The Tradition of Pilgrimage
The tradition of pilgrimage has been with us for centuries, since before the birth of Christ, as evidenced by Psalm 122. After Jesus death, it became common for Christian pilgrims to travel to the Holy Land, the sites of Jesus’ life. This was a perilous journey requiring money and time that your common person didn’t have. During the Middle Ages, the devout devised a way to travel to these sites without leaving their churches. This is how the Stations of the Cross, with fourteen stations representing different aspects of Jesus’ last hour, were created as a way for pilgrims to journey in their minds through Jesus’ death, a practice common to this day during Lent. It is a way to journey in place.
Pilgrimage in Place
During this time of sheltering in place, you don’t have to physically travel to go on pilgrimage. You don’t even have to go to your local church or synagogue. You need go no further than your computer as at your fingertips are museums and art galleries that allow you to see beautiful works of art or sacred relics of another time. There are travel sites that can take you to the Holy Land, places of worship or other holy sites. You can walk through your neighborhood or on nature trails and experience God in nature and the people who cross your path (from the appropriate distance). Or you can journey through a time of meditation, focusing on God and God’s presence in your life.
The Ultimate Pilgrimage
People still make pilgrimages to holy places. Muslims are required to journey to Mecca at least once in their life; Jews still reverence Jerusalem and the Temple and value travel there. There are numerous holy sites throughout the world for people to visit. Ultimately though, while on this earth we are all pilgrims on a journey through life to death.
We are a pilgrim people. Our earthly homes are but temporary stations on our way through life. Death is the final frontier, the end to our journey. Happy are they who say with the psalmist, “When they said, ‘Let’s go to the house of God,’ my heart leaped for joy.” (The Message)
I hope that I will rejoice as well when I hear the Lord call my name, bringing me to the New Jerusalem. In the meantime, I continue to find ways to experience God in this life.
Have you ever made a pilgrimage? How are you doing as you shelter in place? I would love to hear from you.
This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Psalms. Sign up to follow this blog and and receive a free copy of Still Dancing, the second book in my Dancing through Life Series. click here to sign up
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