Every Day is a Pilgrimage
by Maria Bergh, former resident of the Epworth Project
Every day the sun makes a pilgrimage across the sky and, cognizant or not, we follow. Preoccupied by daily tasks, it is hard to sense the direction and speed we are traveling. But with a little grace and intentionality we can draw out the patterns and rhythms and see our lives as a pilgrimage homeward to God.
I started such a journey last August as I moved into St. Francis of Assisi House, a part of the Epworth Project in Dallas, Texas, and went on a two-week pilgrimage with Ryan Klinck to Assisi, Italy. The basilica of St. Mary of the Angels stands at the edge of Assisi, a voluminous, luminous church that dwarfs the small stone building it contains. This inner building holds maybe a dozen people to pray between thick stone walls that meet overhead in a pointed vault painted with the night sky. Over eight hundred years ago Francis stabilized this tiny structure as the center of his new religious community in obedience to Christ's call to "rebuild my Church." Only later did Francis realize the church in need of renovation, then as now, consists of souls, not stones.
I reflected with Ryan that the tiny inner church was startlingly real and humble, revealing St. Francis began an experiment in faith not unlike the Epworth Project. And, as a designer of buildings myself, I felt wonder as I considered Jesus and Francis as fellow-builders and thus companions.
As I returned to the community of St. Francis House, the consequences of my pilgrimage became real. I became aware that each day is a pilgrimage, a brief journey towards God, and this perspective revealed the obvious: my heart was not in my work. Still, it took months, many hours spent weeding and pruning as dark fell over our back yard, for me to uproot my pride and fear enough to quit seeking to promote myself and instead focus on nurturing my colleagues towards that fine, clear June day when I set out to follow my heart.
I now live on a Catholic Worker Farm that feeds the hungry by growing fresh organic vegetables, healing our land, and building relationships with others seeking community. Each morning as I roll out of bed to feed the chickens, often before dawn, I pause for just a moment in thanks for the stillness that surrounds me, the taut feeling that speaks of my body's growing strength. The brilliance of the summer sun and tightness of community continue to reveal opportunities for me to love better as I take slow, imperfect, unsteady steps on this new journey. Come October the frosts will end my time on the farm, and yet I have faith that my practice of pilgrimage will continue, day by day.