Monday, April 28, 2008
"Faithful"- a reflection on a walking pilgrimage
“Jesus Christ is the Lord, Alleluia! Jesus Christ is the Lord, Alleluia! Sing it louder! Again!” The guitar-playing Franciscan brother alternately sings and shouts into the microphone that a high school boy in shorts and sandals holds in front of his mouth. Brother Andrew’s voice projects out of the speakers that are carried like backpacks by four of the approximately one hundred pilgrims who walk along the side of the Pennsylvanian roadway on a Sunday morning in August. We raise our voices as the brother demanded, singing the words and the notes again and again, until finally, it is impossible not to mean what we say.
“Up the hill! Keep singing, pilgrims! Jesus Christ is the Lord, Alleluia! Jesus Christ is the Lord, Alleluia!” As the road begins to incline upwards, my calves, almost distinct personalities by this point in the 67 mile walk, scream at me in anger. I push the pain out of my mind as I push my body up the hill, one of many I conquered in the past four days. I hold on tightly to the straps of my backpack and fill my lungs with air to lift up my voice with the rest of the pilgrims, who are as exhausted, sweaty, and smelly as I am. But none of us care.
“Look through the trees. There’s the shrine! Jesus Christ is the Lord, Alleluia! Jesus Christ is the Lord, Alleluia!” I stand on my tiptoes, following the pointing arms of the other pilgrims- there it is! The shrine! I had never seen it before in my life, and I would have found the architecture to be disappointingly modern, if the shrine didn’t represent everything I had gone through over the past four days. Suddenly laughing inexplicably, I join the others in cheering, and we all begin to move more quickly, sing more loudly, and randomly shout with joy.
“Jesus Christ is the Lord, Alleluia! Jesus Christ is the Lord, Alleluia! Jesus Christ is the Lord, Alleluia, Alleluia!” The pain in my aching, sore body melts away in a frenzy of emotion and my thoughts run together as I walk up the last hill, the shrine in plain sight. I can’t sing loud enough, the sun can’t shine brightly enough to match this, what I feel right now! I love all of you, every one of you, the people I’ve walked beside these days, and I don’t even know your names. It doesn’t matter, our names don’t matter, we are children of God and we are almost there! We’ve walked so far, offering up our sufferings, for the glory of God, and we’ve almost done it, we’ve almost done it! People cheer for us, people I’ve never seen, but I wave back at them like it’s them I’ve been longing to see. I sing so loudly my throat feels raw but it’s a wonderful feeling, the pain that comes from praising God as he deserves to be praised. This- this must be what heaven is like, seeing all the people you never even knew that you loved. They welcome you, and God’s presence is all around, in the religious brothers dancing beside us, in the frenzied, hysterical singing, in the annoying guy you never even liked before this moment, in the friend who has walked beside you all along, in the place, the most beautiful place you have ever seen, all of this is for Him. You almost hear, you can imagine what one day it will be like to hear, as a mixture of tears and sweat runs down your face, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”