Life is a great journey that constantly calls us to leave ourselves behind in order to follow that uncertain desire that drives us.
“It’s very difficult, in geography as in morality, to understand the world without leaving your own house.” – Voltaire
And the journey inevitably changes us.
Life moves us, our encounters transform us, as was the case for Isak Borg in Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 film Wild Strawberries. The old professor must go to Lund to receive an award and, frightened by his dreams, decides to travel by car along with his daughter-in-law. The trip becomes an occasion to reflect on his greed and lack of affection. As they travel by the places that marked his childhood, including the wild strawberry patch as well as his mother’s house, Isak Borg is forced in a way to reread his life and give it a new meaning. By the end of the journey, he has been changed, as if, in some way, he has reappropriated his own life.
Travelling has a special pedagogy, one that is reflected in the instructions Jesus gave to his disciples before sending them out. In time, these instructions became the characteristics of the ancient spiritual experience of pilgrimage: walking towards a goal that, first and foremost, is rooted deep within oneself.
Thus the journey requires a separation from us.
It is an invitation and an opportunity to break from whatever is blocking us, whatever is holding us back. And in general, that which drives us to break from our bonds and set out is a desire.
The journey begins with a desire: a desire that is never even completely clear to us. Desire is always determination mixed with uncertainty. It is a little like Abraham’s experience having been invited by God to leave his father’s house behind and set out for an uncertain destiny, and yet, it is precisely there that Abraham’s life finally begins.
The journey is never made alone.
In one way or another, it is always an experience in community. Jesus sends his disciples out two by two because that is the beginning of a community. Along the way, they share, they conflict, they reach decisions together. This difficulty is necessary so as not to take charge of the journey, so as to know that one is not in control. The disciples also walked together so that other so that they could be witnesses to each other because the only way to give authority to the words of another is to have a witness. With two, it’s possible to support each other, for the journey also took them through moments of discouragement and mistrust.
The text from Mark says that Jesus began to send them out, as if that action has yet to be concluded. The pilgrimage is the call to life that we are continually driven to travel. Abandoning the path is also, in a way, abandoning life itself.
Take nothing on your journey.
Jesus invites the disciples to take nothing, to not weigh themselves down. In this invitation, we see a call to leave behind all that ordinarily holds us back, weighs us down, consumes us, or blocks our path. The journey is an excellent occasion to free oneself of anger and mourning, to take a deep breath with respect to the relationships that consume us without bearing fruit.
Taking nothing also becomes an excellent occasion to learn to ask, to allow life to care for us, and to discover the secret providence hidden in the order of things that teach us not to act like we are in control and not to believe that we can be self-sufficient. We must learn not to depend on ourselves, which means remembering to create room, even emptiness, within us so that another can be welcomed there.
While in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels, Jesus asks his disciples to leave behind even their staffs, in Mark the staff is the only thing they can bring with them. According to some, this is a translation error; according to others, it represents the authority Jesus gives to the disciples. More simply, the staff is what is used to defend oneself from wild animals that one might find along the path: those wild beasts that Mark points out at the beginning of his Gospel when he describes what each person discovers within him or herself in our personal deserts. Perhaps Mark’s Jesus has a less naïve idea of what things we will find along the path of life!
The journey can only be taken on lightly.
Otherwise, we would succumb to the weight that we had failed to leave behind. If there is too much weight on our backs, our feet will refuse to walk. But poverty is also a sign of coherence between what the disciples announce and what they live. The pilgrimage is also the time when you meditate on what kind of life you would like to live, whether or not to drag with you the useless burdens of life or if you prefer to experience the levity of their absence.
And during the journey, you also decide what you want to announce to others about God, what image of God you want to portray: a powerful and self-sufficient God or a mendicant God that walks alongside man.
The pilgrimage of the Gospel is not a hippy’s fable: Jesus, according to Mark, reminds us that rejection is always laying in wait. During the journey we will encounter those who are unwilling to make room in their lives, those who are afraid to share, those who have been injured or deceived be previous pilgrims, those who feel offended by the invitation to change that a pilgrimage itself suggests. The journey teaches us to accept failures and closed doors that are inevitably part of life.
At the end of every pilgrimage, there is a time for reinterpretation: the disciples will gather around Jesus and learn to understand what has happened, passing the pages of the memories they have conserved in their hearts. Sometimes, however, we are forced to go from one experience to another without taking a breath, without being able to stop and reflect on what we have just lived through. But we should always seek a time, at the end of the journey, when we can stop in order to set out again.
Life continually sends us out.
And the first to walk through life as a pilgrimage was Jesus himself. Especially in the Gospel of John, Jesus is presented as He who was sent by the Father, He who fulfills the great pilgrimage to humanity. This is why Jesus knows the pedagogy of the journey so well!
Questions for personal reflection:
- What is the journey that you would like to set out on today?
- What do you have to leave behind in order to begin that journey or what is holding you back on your journey?