I found myself the other day looking over some notes from a lecture I attended when I was training for ordained ministry in 2002. The lecture was by a Japanese theologian called Kosuke Koyama. I remember him vividly as a quiet, gentle man, someone who managed to achieve that incredibly difficult things of balancing a passionate steeliness in his centre about the theology he believed with humility and a willingness to listen and engage with others who he did not share a view with.
In the notes which I took on that day there is something of Koyama’s life. He was 15 when the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, he was in Thailand in the 1960’s and ‘70’s when the Communists engaged in a guerrilla war against the government. Moving from there to New Zealand and later to New York he encountered completely different cultures and new forms of prejudice and injustice. All of this caused him to remark to us that violence and warfare seem to have been the normal condition of humanity in the preceding 50 years. Sadly, I suspect were he still alive his reflection on that normal condition may not have shifted much. However, he went on to describe a methodology for moving away from violence and warfare and towards a different normal.
It requires us to see ourselves as pilgrims, of which there can be 2 types: the kind that know where they are going, and the kind that know which direction they are travelling in but are not so certain of the final destination. Pilgrimage is a walking task and walking is a slow and steady business. Because we walk, we encounter the world differently, it does not rush by us in a blur. Because we walk, we have the time when we meet others to share our stories of encounter; to listen and to be heard. Because we walk, we have time to think, to work through our thoughts step by step. Because we walk, we move from one place to another, we experience change and can be enriched by it and can enrich those new places by our presence.
But importantly, at its heart pilgrimage is slow and steady.
As we find ourselves under continued restrictions, long after many thought life would have ‘returned to normal’, perhaps embracing this idea of pilgrimage is a good one to ponder on. To take the time given to us to slow down, to steady up, to encounter the world and others differently, to allow ourselves time to be enriched and enriching.
As he wrote in his book ‘Three Mile an Hour God’:
'Love has its speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It goes on in the depth of our life, whether we notice or not, at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and therefore the speed the love of God walks.'