On the pilgrimage we average about 20 people walking each day. About 16 spend the night. We have gotten very used to eating in church basements and in sleeping on the carpets in church sanctuaries. We who’ve been on the road for 5 days walking to Bow coal plant. Each time we reach the church we are so grateful. It feels like protection and welcome and warmth, like a sanctuary from the roughness of the road.
We walk mostly on secondary roads, on the shoulder of the road, between occasional cars, and the poison ivy flourishing on the sides of the road. We walk saddled between the fast pace of western empire and the beckoning fields with ponds, pine and yearning.
We walk past beautiful wildflowers—St John’s wort, yarrow, and Queen Anne’s lace. We walk past mud puddles, beer cans, and private property signs.
We walk in weary boots, some with poles for support, some carry coffee mugs, some with walkie-talkies (rural areas have spotty cell phone coverage). Two of us carry a banner with the ropes slung over our shoulders. Many of us have sunglasses and sun hats. The sun screen is generously passed around.
We meet each morning for 30 minutes of gathered worship. We take a group photo in front of the meetinghouse or church. The energy is palpable. In the middle of the morning we walk an hour in silence. The birds sing so clearly. I notice so much more of the growing earth around me: the texture of the sand, the shag of tree bark, the elk in the shade of the elk farm across the field.
Then we find a tree to gather under and we share any reflections we had during the walking silence. People share observations of poor houses, of gypsy moths swallowing up the elm tree canopy. Another shared how they thought how much Jesus and the many disciples walked between Galileo and Jerusalem and Jericho. Another shared how they focused on forgiveness. Some considered how walking we are part of the earth in a way that no other travel offers.
We end the day, 10 to 12 miles away from where we started. We end exhausted, sweaty and muscle-sore. We end amazed that we persisted through blisters, and dangerous road crossings. We began with hope grinning at the camera and ended sprawled out on the church porch in gratitude.