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Life as pilgrimage

Pittsburgh Theological Seminary alum Simeon Rodgers reflects on a pilgrimage he took to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Photo by Max Böhme on Unsplash

In January 2022, I took a pilgrimage to the U.S.-Mexico border with Frontera de Christo through World Mission Initiative and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. That trip opened my eyes to the death, dehumanization and injustice thrust upon innocents there, and my own ignorant complicity as a U.S. citizen.

There I looked into the eyes of a desperate man violently bereft by circumstance of home, family, dignity and peace as he wept and wondered if it was his fault. He was scheduled to attempt another border crossing for a better life in two days, risking forcible conscription by cartel as a drug mule, succumbing to the hazards of the desert or grossly inhumane treatment by border patrol. To this day I wonder if he is still with us. His is one of thousands of tragic stories at the border.

Another day, our group traveled to the middle of the desert to plant a cross in memory of Rosalia Bazan Miranda. As she made the desperate, miles-long journey in the heat with her two children in tow, Rosalia succumbed to thirst after giving them the last of her water. Stories like these break one’s heart and open one’s eyes to the reality of things.

When I learned of how American foreign policy gutted the livelihoods of non-U.S. farmers and catalyzed this cycle of suffering, it was hard not to live perpetually in either a depression or a rage. God’s beloved, who are imprinted with God’s very image, are robbed of home, family, livelihood and their lives by unjust systems of which I am a part. A year later I still struggle with how to honor the learnings of this pilgrimage, but one thing is secure: I would choose to go again.

A pilgrimage is a journey one takes seeking insight, knowledge and wisdom, after which they return to their life with new perspective and resolve. In a way, that person has died a death and begun a new life. Sound familiar? If a pilgrimage has done its good work, the old has passed and the new has come. Such language we are surely comfortable with, perhaps to the point that it may no longer mean what it once did. If one says a thing enough times, allowing it to exist only in the fluid realm of language, meaning seems to dissolve into familiar platitude instead of life-altering truth.

A pilgrimage is a journey one takes seeking insight, knowledge and wisdom, after which they return to their life with new perspective and resolve.

In pilgrimage, though, there is a challenge, as if our inner life is weighed on the scales of reality, demanding that we reckon with our ignorance and the ways we show up in the world. We must actively choose to take on this new life daily with every piece of understanding gained. This challenge is also an invitation to deeper faithfulness. With new understanding, we are better equipped to operate in the world more closely to our ideals, for as they say: “If you know better, you’ll do better.” This places the onus on us to become seekers of understanding, willing pilgrims in life’s journey.