I recently returned from a family weekend trip to Lawrence, Kansas. We wanted to take our nephew to a college basketball game--someplace special--a pilgrimage of sorts. Pilgrimages have captured my imagination for years. My grandparents' and aunt's travels varied travels inspired my dreams with their stories and artifacts. Today I say thank you to a high school English teacher, Mr. K, for recognizing and cultivating my wanderlust in the scope of literary history. In Mr. K's class we studied Chaucer's Canterbury Tales--I loved the Prologue and its discussion of the long pilgrimage.
Difficult to say if Mr. K was prophetic when he signed my high school yearbook. He wrote "Don't goon on too many long pilgrimages." An internal debate of my life these days involves pilgrimage frequency. How often can I go on a pilgrimage? There are many opportunities. Can I bring others? Will my family come with me? When I go by myself, how much is too much time away? How will I share the pilgrimage? The early life longing to depart was only a longing, today pilragmages are planned and experienced, and I have moved into another season in my life where it is time to share the gift of the pilgrimage.
Our nephew grasped the concept I attempted to share--even my wife and his grandfather in their own way understood what I was trying to do--and they became joyful participants along with my wife's mother and our daughter (though they were only recipients of the post game stories). There are particularities to a college basketball game in Lawrence. In my life as a theologian I have come to notice liturgy in public events. Back in 1988, I had no idea that a gathering of 16,000 people in Allen Field House was a liturgical event. Coming to a game 17 years later, I see the liturgy in a basketball arena. It is one of the reasons I like college athletics. The attendee is drawn into a sacred participation with layers of meaning, formed into a story. Music, movement and narrative give recognition to a sacred event. I named this observation to our nephew in the post-game discussion. My wife and I named the liturgy of the event. Our 11 year old nephew asked "what is liturgy?" I am glad the pilgrimage provided a midrash for that question. God provided a holy space, indeed. Six people representing 3 generations "goon" on a long pilgrimage. That pilgrimage carries a dual responsibility--to be thankful in the moment, and to share the experience so that others may enter into a holy space.