The Sacred Pilgrimage

Birth is a beginning

And death a destination

And life is a journey

From childhood to maturity

And youth to age;

From innocence to awareness

And ignorance to knowing;

From foolishness to discretion

And then, perhaps wisdom;

From weakness to strength

Or strength to weakness–

And, often, back again;

From offense to forgiveness,

From loneliness to love,

From joy to gratitude,

From pain to compassion,

And grief to understanding–

From faith to faith;

From defeat to defeat to defeat–

Until, looking backward or ahead,

We see that victory lies

Not at some high place along the way,

But in having made the journey, stage by stage,

A sacred pilgrimage,

Birth is a beginning

And death is a destination.

And life is a journey,

A sacred pilgrimage–

To life everlasting.

Rabbi Alvin I. Fine

A few years ago a learning styles test confirmed that my highest form of intelligence is bodily/kinesthetic intelligence. People with my learning style like moving, know their bodies well and learn through touch and doing and experimenting. They tend to like sports and dancing. When I have writer’s block, the best thing for me to do is get on my yoga mat or go for a run. Moving my body moves my mind. I think that is one reason I have found comfort in this prayer by Rabbi Alvin I. Fine. There is movement in the prayer. It reminds me a bit of our Prayer of St. Francis. We aren’t sitting still, we are on a life-long pilgrimage.

The prayer acts as a nice corrective to our society that values youth. We are told that wrinkles are to be concealed at all cost. The prayer gently reminds us that wrinkles aside, the movement through life brings with it growth that should be valued enough to strive for. We are moving toward maturity, toward awareness, toward knowing, but we are not there yet. Wisdom is an option, but not a guarantee.

Then Rabbi Fine makes an important distinction in phrasing in the middle of the movements. We are not moving from weakness to strength but from weakness to strength to weakness and back again. We move from faith to faith, from defeat to defeat to defeat. This is life. We are not alone in our suffering. Every person who crosses our paths today is a survivor of defeat and deserves our empathy.

At different points on our pilgrimage, we will connect with one movement of this prayer more than another. Today, I identify most with moving from pain to compassion. Our lives don’t take the path we thought they would. Horribly painful things happen. We sit in darkness and do not know how to go on. There are times on the pilgrimage to rest and there are times to move. We are not asked to move from pain to joy, or from pain to happiness, but from pain to compassion. Being broken helps us connect to others who are broken. Together, we limp on toward the rest of our life together. In the last few weeks, I have come to learn that praying for pain to go away does not work. Praying for pain to be transformed into compassion over time, however, does. It is a validation of the pain, a working with it to get through it.

On the journey, I find it really helps to dig into every stage of life and not wish after another. We can waste time wishing we were older or younger. My students used to make the mistake of wishing they were in college instead of enjoying high school. My friends used to wish to be married instead of enjoying the fun of dating. As we age, we start to yearn for days gone by. Yet every stage is an essential part of our sacred pilgrimage. There are things to notice along the way, people to meet, things to learn right now. Today. Here. Where we are. Dwelling more fully in this moment and taking one step at a time brings peace.

In the first section, my heart sinks a bit when I read that death is the destination in the second line. Then the joy of the pilgrimage unfolds. There is so much to notice and take in on the journey. The work is good. At the end, after we read that the sacred pilgrimage is leading us to life everlasting. How easy it is to forget the good news. Our journey is not leading us to darkness, but light.

Published by Ellie Roscher

Ellie Roscher is the author of How Coffee Saved My Life, and Other Stories of Stumbling to Grace. She holds a master’s degree in Theology/Urban Ministry from Luther Seminary and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College.

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