A pilgrimage is an outer expression of an inner journey. On a pilgrim’s journey, one’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.
A few days ago, I embarked with 28 others from the Baltimore-Washington Conference on a pilgrimage that traces the steps of the fourth missionary journey of the apostle Paul to Athens, Corinth, Malta, Syracuse and on to Rome.
It staggers me how much geography can shape a story and our perception of it. History and faith blend with colors, lights and sounds around us. The scenes that unfold in the Bible are ours to reach out and touch. Olive trees line our walkways. Ancient columns stand witness to centuries of unfolding stories of passion, sacrfice, religious zeal and power.
At Mars Hill on the Acropolis, with the city of Athens spread out 230 feet below us, Bishop John Schol read from Acts 17:22-34, which told the story of Paul standing in the same place speaking to the Greek philosophers. In an odd echo of history, the bishop called upon those present to “crave the mystery” as we serve God in the world.
Down the path from where the bishop spoke, was a large, elaborate gate, the Propylaea. The ancient Greeks did not believe it was necessary to put roofs, or even walls, on the places where they honored their gods.
An ornate passageway and four corner posts marked the holy space. The gate made one aware they were entering upon the sacred. In many ways, our days should be shaped like that gate, drawing us into a geography of grace and challenging us to find God there.