“This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ ”—Jeremiah 6:16
The Salvation Army is an action-oriented denomination. By nature and tradition, we focus more on service than reflection and contemplation. So for some Salvationists, the idea of going on a pilgrimage walk may be a foreign concept.
Not so in Pictou County, N.S., where a group of Salvationists embarked on a pilgrimage together in October, walking approximately 50 kilometres over the course of two days.
A pilgrimage is an ancient Christian tradition of spiritual development. It provides a chance to pray, slow down, be contemplative and appreciate a journey with God and his people along “old proven pathways.”
The Pictou County Pilgrimage Walk was designed around the theme of exploring and connecting with our local Salvation Army heritage. Starting at Westville Corps, we visited Scotian Glen Camp and the Army’s thrift store and family services in New Glasgow, as well as former corps locations in Stellarton, Trenton and Pictou. Along with devotions and prayer times, we were blessed to have a retired officer, Major Jeanette Crews, share with us at the end of day two. Having been corps officer at Stellarton, Pictou and New Glasgow, Major Crews had 60 years of stories to tell about Army ministry in the places we had visited.
Though a pilgrimage is a communal exercise, it’s also a personal choice. All pilgrims must ask themselves, Why have I chosen to do this? What things do I believe a pilgrimage walk will help me deal with?
It is a pilgrimage tradition to carry a small rock with you as a tangible reminder of your prayer intentions for the walk, and as a token of prayer to “leave behind.” A rock literally is extra weight, a representation of a burden you’re carrying, spiritually or emotionally.
For our pilgrimage, we each brought three rocks with us: one to place at the gates of Scotian Glen Camp, praying for the Salvation Army ministry spaces we visited on day one, for the Maritime Division and for children and youth; one to throw into the sea while crossing over the Pictou Causeway, representing our individual prayers or concerns, a tangible symbol of surrendering them to God; and one to place in the park in Pictou, praying for Salvation Army ministry spaces we visited on the second day, and thanking God for his insights, presence, mercy and grace upon us during the pilgrimage walk.
A Unique Fellowship
There’s value to doing a pilgrimage. It teaches us to step away from our busy lives. Sometimes we are so busy that we become tired. Of course, going on a pilgrimage walk will tire you out. But in the long run, it is a form of refreshment for your soul.
That is why I chose Jeremiah 6:16 as the theme for our pilgrimage: Walk in the good way and you will find rest for your soul. The next part of the verse, however, says: “But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ ” Oftentimes, I think we choose not to walk because we’re so busy. We have not allowed ourselves permission to spend time with God—to breathe, reflect and contemplate.
At the corps level, aside from the obvious spiritual and physical benefits, a pilgrimage can also be a way of building community. There is a sense of connection that is created among the pilgrims that comes from doing this journey together. Instead of another program, sometimes the best thing to do is take two days off and go for a long walk together. It’s not a function you have to go to; it’s a unique fellowship.
At the end of our pilgrimage, we had a lovely banquet to finish up and debrief together. When we asked the group, “Is this something that you would do again?” it was unanimous. They were excited by it, they grew from it; all of them said, “I want to do this again.” I give thanks for those who chose to do this pilgrimage, and for those who provided hospitality along the way.
There are still more crossroads and ancient paths waiting to be walked, to provide surprising “rest for the soul.” While I am no athlete, I hope to walk “the good way” again in some form. A pilgrimage is not for everyone, but maybe it is for you. To my fellow pilgrims I say, “Buen camino.” Walk well.
Major Daniel Roode is the corps officer in Westville, N.S.
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