Tonight's post comes from Dr. Jason Borders, our pilgrimage guide, ordained elder in the UMC, professor at Huntingdon College in Montgomery... and all around amazing guy! We're really grateful for his leadership in these days AND that he took the time to write this to help us begin to sum up some of what this experience is doing in us, collectively and personally. Check it out...
Who do we say Christ is? Who are we in Christ? These important questions have come up more than once by members of our group as we’ve journeyed this land together. And as we near the end of our pilgrimage, I wonder if our bodies are helping us answer these questions, particularly as they relate to suffering - the kind of suffering Christ is talking about when we’re called to pick up our cross and follow. Our hands and feet have been supporting us, moving us, sensing pain, and enduring fatigue - masked by the occasional shot of Turkish coffee! We chose to put our bodies through this pilgrimage. We chose to walk in the rocky river-bed trail of Zaki, below Bethsaida. We chose to hike the treacherous path along the arid, wilderness cliffs of Ein Gedi. We chose to traverse the steep terrain to touch the ancient stones of Montfort Fortress near Haifa. We chose the difficulties and possibilities this pilgrimage afforded us. And we did so, perhaps, not realizing how pilgrimage may be a first step in learning to choose suffering.
In most circumstances, suffering is something we choose to avoid. We pray, often, that suffering not be in our future. Often, we claim that our ailments, frailties, and shortcomings are our “cross to bear.” But I’m not convinced that’s true. To suffer for Christ is not to optimistically endure the pains of life that we all experience - to keep a stiff upper lip and positively push forward, so to speak. Rather, to suffer for Christ is to choose to be part of the hardships of others. The kind of suffering Christ calls us to enter is much like the choice of pilgrimage. It is a choice to enter suffering that we do not deserve, and might not be ours otherwise, but choose to bear anyway. Discipleship is first and foremost the path of those who choose to enter the suffering of others (all others) and, in Christ’s name, take up the cross by bearing one another’s burdens.
Our group may not have all the answers, but we are coming back with a resolve to be the church wherever that may take us - walking this land has taught us that. Rather than seek out places to find God, we are re-oriented around a God who finds us as we walk with others in the broken places. And in many ways, now, we have come alive to the fact that the would-be pilgrim should be careful. If you walk just far enough, you may just let your guard down long enough to be found by a God who was there all along, hand outstretched, saying “Follow me!”