As the sun was setting this past Monday, we pulled into San Diego after a three day drive west (read what I’m doing in San Diego here). It was a drive I wasn’t particularly looking forward to. After weeks of slowly moving the majority of our belongings to our parents’ houses that ended with a few days of frantic packing and more than one exclamation of “I’m going to go insane!” (me, not Kyle), a three day drive in a full car with a dog who won’t move on a leash was the last thing I wanted to do. I was tired, and I wanted to be in our new (well, not really ours) beach house, lounging on the patio and listening to the waves as I waxed philosophical about pilgrimage and life’s journeys (that’s how it always looks in my head, but strangely it never quite turns out that way). But that didn’t matter, because we had to do the drive anyway, and in the end, I’m so glad we did.
It’s easy to take planes these days, and in some situations, it can even be cheaper than the alternatives. Each time I’ve visited San Diego before I’ve always flown, getting on a plane in rainy Seattle or humid Missouri and getting off the plane in absolute perfection (that would be San Diego, of course). But in all the time I’ve spent soaring high above the clouds, I’ve missed the landscape that lies between there and here, along with the climate, the culture, the people, and the journey that stands between what was and what will be.
The landscape between southwest Missouri and San Diego is particularly beautiful. Passing through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and skirting Mexico at the US border in California, we traveled through Ozark hills, desert plains, canyons, and mountains. There were piles of red rock the color of clay, sand dunes smooth as silk, and cacti as far as the eye could see. It was a land so barren and yet unique and beautiful, teaming with life and waiting to be discovered.
Because of its vast expanse, each time I travel through the West I can’t help but think of the Pioneers. As I zoom along in my car, gazing out at the endless desert with mountains looming in the distance, I wonder about the caravans of families traveling in covered wagons in centuries past. I wonder about how they got beyond that canyon that the Interstate just carried me over, or that rocky mountain range that, even on paved roads, seemed to never end. The endless hours in my childhood spent playing Oregon Trail fuel my imagination as I picture what it might look like to set up camp for the night without my 4 person tent and the campsite bathrooms a hundred yards away–or what breakfast, lunch, and dinner looked like without the convenience of diners and drive-thrus. (Personally, I know they were eating a lot of biscuits, because that’s what I was always buying at the trading posts on the game, but really that’s just because I love biscuits.)
In 2013, with cell phone towers providing Internet access all along the way and Siri spouting out directions, I might only be able to imagine what it’s like to be a Pioneer, but I do know what it feels like. If you’re here, the Path of the Pilgrim written on your heart, you probably know, too.
The pioneer is not so different from the pilgrim, really. In setting out, both the pioneer and the pilgrim leave what is known behind and journey with the hope of discovering something more. Though both the pioneer and the pilgrim have a destination in mind, the journey is often long and arduous, and you can never quite predict just what will happen and how things will play out.
The greatest significance in the connection between the pioneer and the pilgrim, however, is in the courage required to set out and blaze new trails, journeying through territory unknown. Whether on the Road to Santiago, navigating through a new season of life, or even in the day to day, the pilgrim is called to leave the comfort and safety of things known and forge new paths, journeying to the edge.
“The pioneer is not so different from the pilgrim, really…
the pilgrim is [also] called to leave the comfort and safety
of things known and forge new paths, journeying to the edge.”
I feel like a pioneer more than ever these days, which is to say that I am often filled with uncertainty, unable to see what’s ahead, lost in the brush that surrounds me. I feel this in the my vocation as I pursue my passion, in my marriage as we build a relationship of equality for ourselves and future children, and in my lifestyle as I seek to silence the “shoulds” and cultivate a life of meaning. This is all new territory in my book, and for someone who would rather follow a list of things to do, it’s frightening.
And yet my desires and yearnings have compelled me to leave home and journey West, both metaphorically and now, for a time, literally. My instinct speaks of the promise of gold on the other side–in the form of genuine relationship, arresting love, self discovery, and daily Sacred Encounter. And so each day I pioneer, continuing to forge a path through the unknown toward that gold that is rumored to be at the edge, fueled by my desire for the Sacred and for that something more.
As we practice pilgrimage in our daily lives, the image of the pioneer can help us to identify what journeys we are on right now. The journeys we’re on are the places where we’ve already taken a step into the unknown, or are feeling compelled to do so. They’re the areas in our lives where we keep walking (like Katie said last week), continually seeking goodness and meaning despite our uncertainty. These journeys require our full selves and take us to our edges, and when we begin to see ourselves of pioneers of this new territory, it makes sense that the journey is hard, and it’s no wonder we’re filled with doubt. We’re pioneers after all, blazing a trail–but if we stay the course, we’ll no doubt find our form of gold.
“As we practice pilgrimage in our daily lives, the image
of the pioneer can help us to identify what journeys we are on right now.”
Where do you feel like a pioneer in your journey?