Steve Taylor recently lead a session at the National Rural Ministry Conference in Barmera, SA. The session was exploring Festival Spirituality and other ways that people in the Hebrew Scriptures would gather as faith community, worship or participate as a member of a community of faith.
His framework categorised 5 ways that described how people would gather/share faith, the categories he used were:
Steve’s been talking a lot about Festival Spirituality on his blog recently, to be honest the idea of seeing our liturgical year being split into 6ish gatherings connected to festivals (we already naturally celebrate 3 festivals in christmas, easter and harvest) sounded like a beautiful and sustainable idea for many people at the conference. People seemed so attracted to the idea of festivals that the other ways of exploring community, spirituality and faith seemed overlooked by many of the group, so with that In mind I thought I’d like to explore each of the categories leaving Festivals to the last.
I’m really wanting to see how we could develop Steve’s framework into a bible study or church mission resource in the coming months, I’ve already been asked to lead a discussion on some of the ideas at a coming Rural ministry gig. So Steve, be prepared for some further energy and conversation from me as I’m pretty keen on this one.
For this post I’d like to raise the idea of Pilgrimage, because the idea of being a people of movement and journey is pretty much a part of the DNA of the people and communities I’m living and ministering with.
The Hebrew scriptures speak of pilgrimage, of journey as a way of life. When I read the scriptures I’m reminded that it’s only during time of pilgrimage (through journey, being sent, being exiled or experiencing exile) that the people of God seem to glimpse who they really are called to be, only when on pilgrimage do the people truly start to listen and hear God’s voice, only on pilgrimage do they go through a radical change as community. Perhaps we are naturally nomads, called by God to be be nomadic, to live out a pilgrim lifestyle…
If I were to understand pilgrimage as the state of being on a journey I’m reminded that this includes experiences of road tripping around Australia, Backpacking Europe and hiking through the Blue Mountains just as much as it would include walking a Labyrinth and other slower and deep contemplative options. Pilgrimage is also an Indigenous practice, it’s a practice that speaks deeply to the people who have lived on this land for thousands of years and to those of us who, almost naturally understand the state of journey as a part of our relationship with the land, it’s as much a community experience as it is an experience of any individual in the Riverina.
In the rural setting this could include all states of movement including driving from one town to another, (a task that is a huge part of our experience of living rural), participating in the weekly bike club rides that exist in almost every town, taking a driving holiday, transporting cattle/stock along the stock trails and to/from markets and includes the process of harvesting and sowing where one might sit alone on a beast of a machine for days on end.
The idea of harvest as pilgrimage excites me and interests me because I’ve often found myself in discussion with some of my mates about the music that they’d been listening to as they drove the harvester and tractor, and the idea of driving up and down the field slowly seems to me similar to walking a labyrinth.
The conversation I’m keen to have now is how do we as a rural church develop routines and practices for people to re-vision their time on a tractor or their drive through the Riverina as a pilgrimage, a space where the spiritual practice of pilgrimage can provide space for reflection, connection, vision and prayer.
And can we develop practices and resources for people who would regularly travel along the Hume Highway to use the time in the vehicle as a spiritual time, perhaps by providing a musical resource, or a map with spaces and questions to ponder as they drive through the townships. And what about students travelling to and from school on busses, or cyclists who regularly ride through the region or those who travel to/from Church meetings during the week? I’m aware that many of these are individual practices of pilgrimage and that we also need to develop shared practices of pilgrimage, perhaps starting with our walking groups, cycling clubs and motorcycle enthusiasts other places we could develop the idea of shared pilgrimage amongst the communities in the Riverina could include our botanical gardens, golf clubs, national parks, water reserves, museums…
I’m reminded that there are also a number of friends who have seen GeoCaching as a way to provide spaces of sacredness along roadsides as they journey through the country, but I think I’ll leave that idea until I move to contemplating the idea of Sacred Spaces.
So… Pilgrimage as practice opens up the possibility of seeing the tractor as a space for liturgical & ritual practices, the car/vehicle as one drives between Hillston and Sydney as a space for faith and connection. The task for us now is to develop ideas that help the spiritual practice of pilgrimage develop and professional travellers ways to engage with the region they’re driving through in deep spiritual reflection.
Tomorrow I’ll try and make the space to start to think about the idea of Table as spiritual practice…