In general, like the annual Polish walking pilgrimage, life sucks- but with random moments of beauty.
By this I mean that if the pilgrimage is a microcosm of life, specifically the Christian life, it consists of pain, exhaustion, sweat, blood, tears, the collapse of careful plans, lost tempers, hours of waiting, frustration, rain, wind, heat, cold, and no other option besides continuing to put one foot in front of the other. With that said, it's not a stretch to say that this basically sucks. So why do we keep walking- on the pilgrimage, and in life? Why don't we give up? Besides continuing to persevere out of pride and pride alone, which, granted, can happen, I think that most of us, myself included, keep trucking along, forgetting the pain completely in some instances, because of the random moments of beauty.
Examples of random moments of beauty on the Polish walking pilgrimage: walking underneath the cloudless blue sky, the sun falling perfectly and beautifully through the trees, cornfields on your left and right, catching a glimpse of a rest stop just when you thought death (or something close to it) was upon you, the inspiring words of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, an unexpectedly appropriate conversation, the best kind of uncontrollable laughter, a Scripture verse that seems like it was written just for you, going deeper in prayer than you ever thought you could, Polish/Franciscan dance parties, seeing the best in people and having the opportunity to really and truly, uninhibitedly, know them.
My other semi-profound, but more sobering, revelation on the topic of the pilgrimage is this: God gives us these opportunities, these extraordinary moments of beauty and clarity, to prepare us for what is coming, to let us drink deeply of God's goodness and love before we step out of the summer, into the fall, back to school or to work, back to reality, and into a different flavor of goodness that tastes more bitter than sweet.
What else is there to say? The sweetness of consolation can't be ever-present, or it would lose its sweetness and we would sink into complacency. We need to feel the sharpness of reality, feel the fear and uncertainty, in order to appreciate beauty when we encounter it. It's frightening, to experience joy, but know that the lightness of heart is fleeting, that it's going to get harder, that you can't always be feeling so happy you can hardly breathe. It's consolation, it's beautiful and a gift, but it won't always be there and you can't rely on it or your faith in God will collapse under the weight of all the suffering in the world. In all honesty, I'm scared of what comes next. The pilgrimage can be unpredictable- will it rain? will we find our bags? how long til the rest stop? are we going to have ham and butter or cold kielbasa?- but it only lasted four days and there was an end in sight. Not so with life. We're pilgrims here and our destination is our heavenly home and until we get there, though we don't know the day nor the hour, we're here, with uncertainty about tomorrow, but with all our hopes fixed firmly on our true home.
Photo credit: A. Huntley