We only have one childhood story about Jesus, that of his amazing the elders in the temple. I’m not really sure what this story tells us about Jesus, or his Home-Alone-ish family, but its context deserves some reflection. A couple times a year, people would pilgrimage to the temple. Diaspora Jews would make these trips less frequently, perhaps, once or twice in a life-time. We have little in today’s world that is equivalent to this. As someone who cares about mental health, family systems, and healthy transitions, I think this is our loss.
Imagine what it would be like to put your faith into motion by walking seventy-five miles. Parents would be explaining to their children, as they schlepped across the Judean Hills, just how important religion was. People who had lost loved ones, would work through their grief as they walked. Newly weds would explore their new relationship, with each other and with their new extended families. There would be deep discussions about the things that mattered. There would be songs. The fellowship of God’s people would be made visible.
During the holidays, we all tend to complain about our family obligations. The truth is, it’s not that we have too much at Christmas that takes us away from our routines, it’s that we have too little. Perhaps our celebrations are maddening — but life without the centering effect of pilgrimage is also crazy. Some of the healthy effects of pilgrimage can be experienced in smaller doses, if we value the work that a structured spiritual experiences does in our lives.
Further, we should plan for the year ahead. Can we shift our vacation times so that they do more than just remove us from work? Can we incorporate the religious pilgrimage into the way we navigate transition and respond to life’s critical moments? How can we rediscover the wisdom of walking with a crowd.