I took my annual “pilgrimage” to Atlanta this past week and spent time contemplating sacred spaces. Although the first stop on my tour led to my old seminary whereby I attended a preaching conference, my time began at an interfaith prayer labyrinth we commissioned several years ago.
I remember the commissioning like it was just last week: the CBF Baptist-Muslim task force and the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University partnered in building and dedicating the garden. I read a prayer of dedication that day.
When I arrived on Mercer’s campus this past week, I walked the labyrinth and sat on one of the benches for 30 minutes. That was 30 minutes . . . without reaching for my phone. Without getting bored. Without becoming restless or distracted. Thirty minutes of just sitting, contemplating the importance of this place–a center of a labyrinth, which required me to walk in and from among the margins to the center, which takes about 10 minutes.
I mean, you can easily walk through the labyrinth, bypassing the zig-zagging stone “walls”, which means walking about 14 feet from the border to the center in about 30 seconds, but that would be cheating.
But a pilgrim walks in prayer and contemplation, which includes 4 circuits towards the center, away from the center, around, and back again.
My walk burdened me with the importance of pilgrimage and sacred spaces: We come to the center to really come home to God. This, my seminary, and this place–Atlanta–is my home of homes, I’m convinced. After all, I got two post-grad degrees here, raised my children here, pastored my first church here, and made life-long friends.
But I can’t stay at the center. No one can. Its only half the pilgrimage, and God sends us out into the world.
I come to Atlanta twice a year for this reason: There’s always a preaching conference, a day pilgrimage to a monastery in Conyers, and time with our good friends. Then I go back to ministry, family, and my beloved church in Florida. It is a circuit following the Holy Spirit to the interior places of my life, in-and-out, and back beyond the border to the exterior places where I do business, where I am learning to transition my children to adulthood so they can leave home and go into the world on their own.
It is ironic, by the way, that this year’s preaching conference welcomed theologian Miroslav Volf who lectured on home and the significance of God making God’s home among God’s people.
God builds homes and welcomes us; we come home and then are tasked with welcoming others; and then we go forth and build other homes in order to welcome the world.
I decided to do a few videos on the pilgrimage this time around, which you can find here. Entering and exiting these two locations– the seminar and the monastery (and out again) –have become as natural and invigorating as breathing, like a breath of fresh air, or coming up for air.
But now my week is coming to a close, and I am ready to dive deep into the world for another season of ministry to which God calls, from deep to deep, so I can show others how to be pilgrims too.