Belinda Groves – 27 March 2017

Well, this is my last Sunday for the next six weeks. We have been dreaming of this holiday (probably since the kids were born), but making real plans to travel this year (after Miriam finished college) since 2012. And now it has finally come! The kids and I fly out Tuesday and Aron joins us in Edinburgh on the 8th April.

As we are about to become tourists I re-read with interest Diana Butler Bass’s comments on tourists versus pilgrims in the conclusion of Christianity for the Rest of Us this week.

Being a tourist, she says, as we all know, is wonderful! Every year she looks forward to her family holiday at the beach. The purpose of this time is to withdraw to gain new perspectives on normal life, and to be strengthened and rested to return to normal life. The purpose is not to connect with the place they visit.

For the people who move through life, and through churches, seeking self-discovery and meaning, however, being a spiritual tourist is not so helpful. They need to connect with a community that faithfully practice being Christians. They need to move from being tourists to pilgrims. “Being a tourist,” Bass says, “means experiencing something new, but being a pilgrim means becoming some-one new. Pilgrimages go somewhere – to a transformed life”

Since January we have been looking at ten spiritual practices that Bass identified in the churches she studied, churches where new things appeared to be happening and where people were growing deeper and experiencing a new sense of identity by intentionally engaging with discernment, hospitality, healing, contemplation, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, beauty and theological reflection. Practices that make us pilgrims.

But there are also churches heavily populated by another category of traveller. People who come, perhaps, because they always have, who participate in the life of the church as consumers rather than as contributors. To give them a label (and I cast no aspersions because I have taken this kind of holiday myself!) they could be spiritual cruise goers; those who allow others to drive the boat, provide the entertainment and do the cooking!

And we all need to cruise at some points in our life, but to grow, spiritual practices must be practiced! We must set aside time for seeking God in discernment and contemplation and theological reflection. We must risk being vulnerable in offering hospitality, praying for healing, working for justice, wrestling with diversity and meeting God in worship. And we must celebrate the work of God in beauty and testimony!

We are going on holiday. The word comes, as you know, from the Old English hāligdæg (hālig ‘holy’ + dæg ‘day’) and originally referred to special religious days. We go intending to be holy tourists, to simply be refreshed and strengthened for our return, and on that return, we look forward to re-joining the pilgrimage that this church, this group of holy pilgrims that we love, is engaging on together with God.

Belinda Groves