Several years ago I read a book that has forever changed how I travel:
No matter how short the distances and familiar the route you travel on a given day, you can do it as a pilgrim- and no matter how long the journey or how sacred its destination, it is possible to be nothing more than a tourist. Whether the journey is within your own backyard or takes you to the other side of the world, the potential is there for the greatest of adventures: a journey not only toward Christ but with him" (The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life, xvii).
As Presbyterians from all around the country and across the globe descend upon Portland, OR this week for the 222nd General Assembly, we do so as pilgrims on a journey toward Christ. No matter the distance or if we travel by Tri-Met or Über, our movement throughout Rip City is wrapped in the possibility of the sacred. Our committee meetings and plenary sessions are fresh opportunities to discover the holy.
What is beautiful about pilgrimage- you are certain to find familiar faces along the way. Whether discovering your seat on the plane is next to another pastor in your presbytery or bumping into an old colleague while on a morning run across one of Portland's many bridges, pilgrimage shrinks the distant destination into a local fellowship of the saints. It becomes a tabernacle for conversation, prayer, worship, and play.
But the pilgrimage also dares us as travelers to move about with eyes wide open to both the holy and brokenness of place. As we gather this week in Portland, we embrace the beauty of the landscape while also aware that around nearly every city street corner are tent cities and persons experiencing homelessness for who knows how long. We sip fair-trade coffee at locally owned cafes while also walking past businesses that profit off addiction and the objectification of those stamped with the imago Dei. We celebrate a city committed to ecology and the environment, while also aware our travel from Philadelphia to Portland came at a cost to the creation.
And as we discern and decide in community this week, we do so as fellow pilgrims committed to bearing witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ that is for both Portland and the whole world. We come here as those looking for the thin places where the ordinary and the holy collide, daring us to work towards the new creation that is our shared and collective hope and calling (Ephesians 1:18). We are nudged by the Spirit who has invited us to do more than speak about our polity and procedures, but also and especially embody them as the gathered and scattered saints drenched in the waters of our baptism.
As our opening worship's Assurance of Forgiveness and Reconciliation reminded each of us:
Now turn to the cascading waters of baptism and toward one another:
God’s grace is overflowing,
Christ’s mercy is as endless as the rain,
Spirit’s power ensures deliverance.
Know that in Christ God was reconciling the world.
Be people of the water! Travel wet!