Dear friends, I continue to reflect on images and ideas that came to me during our pilgrimage to the Holy Land in November 2022. In this post, I’d like to make some connections between pilgrimage as crucible and our pilgrim journey into the new year.

A crucible is the ceramic vessel in which ore is “refined” with fire to separate precious metals from the “dross” or impurities, which rise to the top and are skimmed off. In scripture, this image is repeatedly used to describe the process by which God tries the soul and “tests the heart.” Many of us may recognize this image from Handel’s Messiah, which quotes Malachi in declaring that God’s messenger “is like a refiner’s fire.”

I had a sense, early on our pilgrimage, that we were in a crucible. We experienced flight delays and a last-minute leadership cancellation. We endured repeated schedule changes which were out of our control and deprived us of many opportunities we had eagerly anticipated. It quickly became apparent that our pilgrimage would not look much like we had planned and anticipated it would. (I will reflect more on this in my post next week.)

Yet our experience in that crucible refined us, day by day. Here’s what I wrote about that process in my journal one night. I invite you to read it with an eye to your expectations about living into this new year. Perhaps you’ve set an intention for 2023, made some new year’s resolutions, or just unconsciously assumed what the weeks ahead will hold. As you live into your pilgrim journey that is the year ahead, I invite you to ponder this message:

We bring with us different sets of preparations, experiences, understandings, assumptions, hopes, and dreams—and God is forming us into a community of pilgrims in the crucible of this journey.

There are those of us who stride forward to get where we’re going and are frustrated with starting and stopping, waiting for others to catch up. Our invitation is to pause to pay attention, both externally to what’s going on around us, and internally, to what’s going on within us. What’s our response to needing to wait, to hold back, to not be able to do it all, see it all, experience it all?

Then there are those of us at the back of the pack, coming to painful terms with our physical limitations or with the limits on our time and energy to explore everything we pass. Our invitation is to live with the pain, accept the limitations, and receive the assistance of our fellow pilgrims.

There are those of us who want more time alone, and those of us who want more time in conversation, and those of us who can’t even figure out what we want and need at this point.

One of the necessary limitations of pilgrimage is that we cannot do it all. We cannot stop in every tiny shop to explore wares, have conversations, negotiate purchases. We don’t get to hear the stories of all the families that struggle to put food on the table. Instead, we get windows into others’ worlds. We get the moment of smiling and saying “Sorry, no” to the pressuring vendors. We can pray for everyone struggling to make ends meet. We receive sounds, smells, and sights. We can bear witness to what we pass and understand that we might not be able to process it all in the moment. We can trust the Spirit to help us process it later, when we are home and have breathing space to remember and pray.

So, be here now. Soak up what you can, receive what you can, and trust the Spirit to light the fire under the crucible that will refine and transform you through this experience.

My friends, be here now. As the year unfolds, do your best to accept and embrace the crucible of each present moment and all the precious gifts it holds.

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