DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

On Pilgrimage

Written by: on October 26, 2020

Every July or August, for the past nine years, I have spent weeks packing and preparing to make my way to the small, East African country of Rwanda. I distinctly remember returning from my first mission trip in 2011 and my husband asking me what my big takeaway was. I told him, “In Rwanda I discovered a piece of my heart and a sense of being home.”

Over the past 9 years, this little country with its complicated history and extremely resilient people has captured my heart. Traveling there has become part of my life rhythms, much like daily prayer and bi-annual spiritual retreats. In many ways, my time in Rwanda is a pilgrimage. For me, it’s a place where the veil between heaven and earth disappears and the glory of God is most evident.

Due to the pandemic, travel to Rwanda was not possible this year. Instead, I found myself searching out and walking local labyrinths and hiking many miles on various wilderness trails. I didn’t realize how all these pieces fit together until I was backpacking in the Sisters Wilderness one weekend in August. In the chaos of the pandemic and economic downturn, I was searching for a place of grounding, a place where God’s presence felt evident. My spirit longed to experience nearness to God, and so I sought God through the steady movement of my feet.

Some of my favorite passages in scripture are written in John 14-17. Here Jesus is preparing his disciples for his death. In doing so, he tells them he is going to prepare a place for them and will return for them (John 14:3). He then moves into the metaphor of the vine and the branches, instructing them to remain in him. He uses the word remain eleven times, emphasizing the importance of dwelling in him (John 15:1-13). Then Jesus invites the disciples into the most intimate of spaces when he prays to his Father, asking that those who belong to him would be one, as Jesus and the Father are one, that unity would exist amongst them all (John 17:11, 20-23).

Jesus knew his people would want to follow after him. He knew we would desire to walk the roads he walked and sit in spaces where he sat. He knew we would want to be present in places where heaven and earth collide, where sandals are kicked off and holy ground is stood upon. Remember Peter atop that mountain with Christ, wanting to pitch some tents and stay for a while?

While these mountain top moments are important, even of great transformative value, they are not where we are called to live. Jesus invites us into something more. As Jesus walked in the valleys, he was centered down in God, observing, listening, eating, and interacting with creation. In his days and ways, Jesus remained present in the moment. His quest wasn’t to discover new landscapes or seek holy ground, but rather to see anew the landscapes where he normally resided while also residing in God.[1] Jesus modeled how to exist in the spaces in-between, in this place of now and now and now. It is here Jesus reveals to us what it means to be human, embracing his finiteness while comprised of flesh, bone, breath, and death.

During his Camino pilgrimage, Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, wrote these words regarding the in-between places of this world:

Between A and B there is a vast space.

But with eyes on the road, and a brisk pace,

you’ll never see it. It is warm and slow.

It finds the contours of the land, and goes

the same speed as you. If you make your goal

the destination then you’ll never know

how to travel well. Oh, so much misery

is heaped upon the world by those who move

quickly and think only of the end.

Another way is waiting. And all that

it requires is what you’ve already got:

time, candor, and a sturdy pair of shoes.

Between A and B there is space. It is

here. And now. It is your life. If you choose.[2]

 

On this pilgrim’s journey, may I choose well, with eyes ready to see anew the land where I reside, and a heart willing to center down in the Divine and abide. Always. Amen.

 

 

[1] Diana Renner and Steven D’Souza. Not Knowing: The Art of Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity. (London, UK: LID Publishing, Ltd., 2016.) 216-217.

[2] Stephen Cottrell. Striking Out: Poems and Stories from the Camino. (London, UK: Canterbury Press Norwich, 2018) 15.

About the Author

mm

Darcy Hansen

14 responses to “On Pilgrimage”

  1. mm Jer Swigart says:

    Darcy.

    You begin this piece reflecting on Rwanda as a place where heaven and earth seem to be woven together. You end with a poetic expression that lifts up the importance of a slow pace for seeing and participating with God. I wonder if there is something about the location of Rwanda that invites you to adjust your pace and relocate your awareness on the nearness of God?

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      Time in Rwanda definitely provides the opportunity to toss the to-do list and be very present. All my basic needs are cared for. I am there for a singular purpose: to be fully present with those before me, whether that’s in the classroom or on a home visit. But even the pace of life there is different, as Rwandans are less driven by the clock. In the slower, sometimes unpredictable pace, there’s room for Divine surprises to be noticed and experienced. When at home, I try to maintain that slower, noticing pace in my days. Learning to abide in the Holy, regardless of location, is an ongoing desire/learning curve of mine.

      • mm Jer Swigart says:

        Darc.

        If there’s one practice that has stuck with you in a U.S. context that you learned or cultivated in Rwanda, what it is it? How do you live it? How do you teach it?

        • mm Darcy Hansen says:

          Life is complex, and hard. But there’s goodness to be found below the layers. My Rwandan friends have taught me to look below that surface to see the good. They have taught me how to sit in the space between holy and horrific, between life and death, and find God’s Grace. I think that’s the place where redemption happens, both individually and communally. How do I teach that? Not sure, except maybe give people freedom to name their hard of life, and then sit with them in that until holy goodness emerges. It will come, but it takes time. Its not a one and done lesson- again, its a process that happens over the course of a lifetime.

  2. mm Greg Reich says:

    Darcy,
    Your post reminds me of the pilgrimage of Henri Nouwen. An esteemed professor at Notre Dame, Harvard and Yale but he felt at home in a developmentally disabled community called L’Arche.
    I relate to your post. It also has provide a map for me as well. Every winter I take a trek north into Alberta, Canada to a small bible college for a few weeks. A place of beauty and remoteness. A place of only a handful of hungry students looking for hope, looking for affirmation to their sense of calling. Many of these students couldn’t make it is a standard bible college setting. Some of them due to lack of social skill from being home schooled and raised in small family hamlets. Others have struggle with their academic ability. A few have minor learning disabilities. Only a few can be classified as brilliant. Only a hand full of students graduate with a 4 year degree. None the less each time I enter the campus I have a sense of being home, of being among family. Due to Covid, my time last year was cut short and this year is most likely going to be a zoom process. I am now maneuvering those in between places where I am facing my humanity, mourning the fact that my annual trek will most likely again be rearranged.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      I’m so sorry you won’t be able to be physically present with your students. Funny how we have that deep longing to return to those places that speak Home to us. I keep wondering how to transport that experience into my everyday, especially since I don’t physically live in those places where I sense Home. God keeps reminding me, Home is within the Divine, but that is hard to tap into sometimes. I wonder as we become more human if that ability will be less of a struggle and more of an easy delight? Jesus eluded to this sense of non-belonging in the world, but deeply belonging with the Father. He did this as human, so it gives me hope that the way of the pilgrim isn’t so much a journey to a place, but one toward and into a Person.

  3. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Hi Darcy, it really sounds beautiful! Thank you.

    I love to interact with nature dreaming of the way Jesus may have.

    Yesterday, I spoke with Leonard about connection with the earth. The connection with nature that the First Peoples of this continent do have, sure is something.

    Nature is close to my heart too 🙂 sometimes, slowing to a stop, to remain, to be inspired by the oneness (wholeness, soundness).

    It is beautiful. And, then there’s the ‘death’ piece to the Jesus journey. What do you think about that? Is there an imminence to ‘death’ (even, that nature reveals) that can awaken us to someone less than who we thought we once were? A beauty in losing our selves?

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      There is something about nature and being in it’s wonder that reminds me I am so very small- a mere grasshopper, a speck of dust in the massive realm of creation. I think Jesus stepped into the flow of nature, from seed in the womb to an embodied presence in the tomb. As difficult as it is for us to see beauty in dying and death (because sometimes it is horrific and wrong on every level), I think it’s there if we are willing to look. We see glimpses of it as we serve others, losing ourselves so they can live more fully. How do we maintain that posture in our last days? I’m not sure, but I am learning.

  4. mm Dylan Branson says:

    Darcy, I was reminded of how Hong Kong acted as as site of pilgrimage for me when I first started volunteering here. Like you and Rwanda, it was a place that just seemed to click where God revealed Himself to me in a way that I hadn’t experienced before.

    However, when my yearly pilgrimage led to a permanent move, that initial “holiness” moment of being here was soon replaced by the norm (now my “pilgrimage” is back to Kentucky for the week I’m usually there over the Christmas holiday). In your subsequent times of visiting Rwanda, have you found your experience shifting in regards to the “pilgrimage” aspect? Or does it continue to draw you there as that holy space?

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      My perspective has definitely shifted over the years, but there is definitely still a draw to return to the Holy I experience in that place and through its people. I tell my husband I want to move there. I’m sure if that happened, everything would change. Living in a place is very different than visiting it from time to time. I suppose that’s why God is helping me understand that pilgrimage is less of an external journal as it is an internal one; one that is to be taken moment by moment, regardless of location.

  5. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Oh my goodness! I can’t believe I didn’t draw the connection between your work and John 14-17 earlier. What a beautiful passage for you to continually meditate on. Have you personally walked the Camino de Santiago (forgive me if you’ve written about that elsewhere)?

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      No, I haven’t. But its high on the list of places to go and be attentive to. Maybe after our DMin graduation I can sweet talk my husband into doing the trek with me:)

  6. mm John McLarty says:

    It sounds in many ways as if Rwanda came to you this year. Could this be part of what Jesus meant when he said he would always be with us?

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