Sarah Wurst’s 5-Step Guide to Being a Pilgrim in Your Own Place


Sarah Wurst in India

Intern Sarah Wurst on her recent trip to Vrindavan, India. Pictured here at Kusum Sarovara, a sacred site outside of the city.

Three Abundant Table Interns, three international voyages over the last few months.  A trip to visit family for a wedding in Singapore for Jeannette, a Holy Lands tour with mom and godmom for Angela, and a post-Christmas service trip to India for me (Sarah Wurst).  And, from all of this, a whole lot of pooling our new perspectives on what it means to be a pilgrim people of faith.

Being “A Pilgrim in Your Own Place” has been something that we interns have been invited to reflect on and live into from many different angles this year.  From Ched and Elaine’s “Watershed Discipleship” to the Rev. Julie Morris’ “Camino de Camarillo,” we have explored what it means to live into Ventura County in a new way and be open to the movings of God, creation and humanity in this, our very own home, and sacred land. 

But, how does one do this?  Luckily for you, I have combined the many conversations, imaginings, reflections and prayers of the Abundant Table Interns into a 5-Step process for Being a Pilgrim In Your Own Place.

  1. Seeing Your Home with New Eyes

Angela Schultz, Abundant Table Intern, stands at the top of Mount Hebron, looking over the Sea of Galilee. Later, she reflects that being a pilgrim is pretty centrally about gaining a new perspective and how, often, one must climb to a high vantage point to achieve this sort of long view. 

Many times, in our day-to-day existences, we see from one task to another, which build-up into one busy day in a series of busy days.  We live with the tunnel vision of efficiency, focused on the things ahead of us so that we can keep moving forward.

The AT Interns would like to propose that living as a Pilgrim means looking not only ahead, but looking around us.  It means making a practice of taking a step out of the doings of our daily lives and looking at things from a broader perspective.

What does it mean to take a step back and fit our lives into the puzzle of the larger picture?  Does it mean literally climbing mountains for the experience of looking down at our homes, our workplaces, our beloved spaces of worship and play, and seeing them become smaller before our eyes? Does it mean taking time to learn the mountain itself as an interconnected part of the story of this land, and also our own story?  We think it does.

So, the first step is being in our place in a new way.  Take time to look at it through the lens of the bigger pictures of community, purpose and the mystery of God.

Angela in the Holy Lands

Intern Angela near the ruins of Avedat in the Negev during her trip to the Holy Lands.

  1. Honoring Your Home as Sacred

Every morning while I was in India, I would make the walk through the monkeys, cows and stray dogs in the alleyway from the hotel to the temple.  Here I would meet a group already gathered for morning worship.  We sang songs in preparation to see the deities who had been elaborately dressed and decorated with bright, embroidered outfits and fresh flowers.

A few days into this practice I realized, holy cow! This is a celebration of God showing up for us differently with every new day!  This seemed like an important reminder to me that God is with us in the newness of each day, dressed to experience our joys and sorrows, triumphs and failures.  A friend who was with me on the trip, who practices Vaishnavism, explained to me that showing up for the deities every morning is not so much about seeing God, but about God delighting in seeing us.  So, not only is God sharing our experience, but loving us entirely throughout the process.

Another time in my life that I experienced this closeness of relationship to Holy Mystery was while I was living on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana.  There, the pervasive belief that the land itself was holy intrinsically and made more so by the spirits of ancestors still alive there, sank into me as well.

I heard once that there are only two things in this time: the sacred and the desecrated.  Our call as pilgrims is to dig our fingers through what’s been desecrated to re-birth the sacred.  Whether that is engaging in deep conversation of truth and compassion with one another, working to care for the land in a way that is loving and respectful, or putting our energy into rebuilding food systems that love and care for all (and we mean all), we must find new ways to view our surroundings as filled with God.  What if we saw the whole world as holy ground?  I think we are called to work towards this as pilgrims.

  1. Seeking out Relationship with your Fellow Journeyers

 If we recognize that we are part of an interconnected web of sacredness (The elaborate inner-workings of which are revealed after even one day on the farm. It is not uncommon to hear the AT Interns exclaim things like. “Nothing is wasted!”  or “Everything is magical!”), then we start to understand the relational role we play in that.

On a pilgrimage to a different country, a person is very dependent on the hospitality of those who live in that country for sustenance, rest and instruction.  On pilgrimage, we are constantly invited to tables other than our own.  We are invited to take a step out of our own, often dominant, perspective and see the world through the eyes of others. 

Doing this in our own place starts with asking, “who is responsible for this food on my plate and how can I honor them?”  Or, in that sometimes being in relationship is also about reconciliation, realizing past wrongs and working for restoration, asking, “Who is not sharing in this harvest?”  Part of being a pilgrim is serving and being served in relationship.  We are in relationship with our neighbors who are human, who are plants, and who are air and water.

Going on a pilgrimage is vulnerable.  It is a stepping outside of our comfort zones and presenting ourselves as willing to be part of a larger story.  We are linking our own journey with the journeys of others, with the land, and with all the suffering within that.  If we are open to what we will learn and see, there is a possibility that we will be molded and changed.

     Traditional pilgrimages often require some sort of physical challenge.  During Julie Morris’s “Camino de Camarillo”, which was modeled after the nearly five hundred mile Camino de Santiago in Spain, participants walked fourteen miles around the town of Camarillo offering prayers and intentions while being in Camarillo in a different, sacred way.  The challenge of being a pilgrim will entail some aches and pains, as you walk alongside the suffering of this world.        

Jeannette and the Toad

Intern Jeannette delighting in a toad that farmer Robby found in the carrot rows after the recent rain. Jeannette was amazed at the cause and effect of ecosystems, “It rains and then there are toads in the fields!”

  1. Making Space for Reflection, Retreat and Rest

    Entering into the holy insecurity of pilgrimage is an intentional way to be involved in our own story and calling, and how it fits in with the larger story of the land around us.  And, it requires a lot.  Living as a pilgrim means that I am open to how God is reaching out to me in my own place.  I have to be alert and intentional and ready to step out of convenience and enter into the challenge of working for love and justice.

One of the things that has be reinforced in my experiences this year is that there are not always clear answers.  Jeannette, by way of Abundant Table Farm Educator Erynn Smith, shared a metaphor with me that I find helpful in the face of this ambiguity.  She told me to think of this unclear space as the silt-filled waters in the place where a river flows into the ocean.  This is nutrient-filled water, and holds in it a ton of potential for growth and life, but it is murky, unclear and can look ugly to the untrained eye.

Which is why it’s important to allow space for prayer and reflection as a pilgrim!  Allowing space for our experiences to slow, spread, settle, and sink will give us the clarity and grounding that it takes to keep walking.

5. Searching for Your Center and “Going Home”

In the Garden

I just had to take a break while writing this to go out to the garden and find some lavender to smell and help center my thoughts. This is a trick I learned from Erynn Smith at the Advent Women’s Retreat in December, and I just had a silly, self-congratulatory moment when I realized this was a perfect example of practicing what I’m preaching!

 After her trip to the Holy Lands, Angela shared that her trip there was about visiting her historical religious homeland. I think the desire to find a center, a rock to stand upon, stories and parables to give us clarity, is natural. But, I think it is true that these stories often take place in a context separate from our own.

The “Camino de Camarillo” made the pilgrim experience accessible in our own backyards. As Julie focused on visiting the carefully created and attended sacred spaces in our own community, such as churches, gardens and resting places, we inhabited the space in a new way, seeing familiar neighborhoods with new eyes.  The day of walking, intention and reflection ended as Julie called us to consider what we hold at the center of our lives, and what physical spaces we can inhabit to bring us closer to our relationship with God, one another, and our world.

As we begin to take our grounding stories from the very land and population that surrounds us, we will understand how God is alive and reaching out to us in our own place.  We will see how our perspectives change as we take time to understand that the ground we walk on every day is sacred ground.  As we see how we are interdependent on this vastly interconnected web of life and community, our pilgrim efforts will be put to use working for justice so that all tables can be blessed with a variety of abundance. 


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