Lenten Pilgrimage: Day 1 Reflections

This year for Lent, our congregations have committed to “walk” to Jerusalem. Along with the Israelites wandering through the wilderness in search of the Promised Land, and Jesus descending the mountain of his Transfiguration toward his trial, death, and resurrection in Jerusalem, we will name our own trials we seek to overcome, as we move toward the promises God has made for us and to us. We will compile all our miles walked, and hopefully make it all the way to Jerusalem by Easter!

So today, Ash Wednesday, is our first day of walking. Of course, it is snowing. (We are counting on El Niño to deliver a mild winter, but we are bound to get some cruddy days, right?) Still, I bundled up Grace and myself, and we headed off. First stop was to drop Grace off at daycare. As I did this, I made a concerted effort to notice things. What follows are my reflections on some of those things.

The first thing I noticed was the quarter inch or so of snow on the ground. It crunched a little unevenly under my feet. Lesson one: be careful, and don’t slip. Not a bad lesson for the first day of this journey!

The next thing I noticed when I took inventory of how my body was feeling. I became aware of a slight pain in my right hip. I often have pain in my hips that comes and goes, and I usually don’t even notice it anymore, but today, I did. As I did, I couldn’t help but think of Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22-31). After wrestling with God all night, Jacob demands a blessing from God. God changes Jacob’s name to Israel, and Israel leaves this match having prevailed, but with a limp in his step because God had touched him on his hip. This encounter happened in the middle of a journey. I have long been fascinated by it, and the lessons of this story were not lost on me today: on any given journey, there may very well be injury, either physical or spiritual, and they may very well be a result of a close encounter with God. But that’s not a bad thing. I knew going in that this Lenten pilgrimage was meant to “create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me,” and this often can’t happen without some pain. Lesson two.

After I dropped off Grace and continued on my way, I became very aware of the footsteps in the snow. I smiled, as they became a physical reminder that I wasn’t walking alone. I walked alongside one pair of footsteps for a stretch on Cooper Road, and thought of that famous Footprints poem everyone loves, but I sort of hate, due to that whole “familiarity breeds contempt” thing. Still, I imagined Jesus walking with me.

As I meandered through the streets of my neighborhood, I encountered different sets of footprints as one would veer off in a different direction and other would join my route. Each was different from the last, reflecting how differently each of us walks (physically and metaphorically). Some were turned slightly outward, some parallel. Some were accompanied by pet prints. Some were quite large, some small. Some walked side by side, some alone. Some had a swish behind each step – those people must shuffled their feet a bit while they walk. Some were partially snowed over (early walkers!), some were fresh. Some shoes had flat soles, some clearly had superior traction. Some were solid, some were broken into two parts. Some looked like fish, swimming down the sidewalk (those will be helpful once our journey to Jerusalem takes us into the Atlantic! Har har…).

Fishes! One of the earliest symbols for Christianity.

The more footsteps I saw, the more interested I was, and the more compelled to pray for their owners I became. I imagined the people who made those footprints – who they are, and what they might be going through on this day. Do they walk every day? Were they walking for exercise? Were they walking to lose weight and be healthy? Or just to enjoy some fresh air? What burdens do they carry? What joys do they experience? What is their relationship with the rest of their family? What is their job, or are they retired? Noticing people’s footprints in the snow, while I was myself trying to walk with some sort of intention, made me consider the people in my neighborhood in a way I hadn’t before. It almost made me want to follow one of the sets to their end, and knock on that door and ask if they’d like to share a cup of tea! (My creepiness radar told me that wasn’t such a good idea at this juncture.)

When all was said and done, I walked about 2 miles. The next couple of days are supposed to be bitterly cold, so I expect I will be finding somewhere else to walk than on the streets of West Irondequoit, but I do look forward to my next walk alongside my neighbors!