I read an article recently (I can’t recall where, or else I’d cite it properly) about an unusual pilgrimage one man makes every year to ground his prayer life in real life. Each year he travels to his nearest city and rides each of the subway lines from end to end. He prays throughout the trip as his community of fellow travelers comes and goes. He gets off the train at random stops and goes to the first church he finds to sit in prayer for a while. When he’s done, he leaves the church, and gets back on the subway, and repeats the process.
There are two things going on with this pilgrimage that I find fascinating. First, the man uses the subway routes like larger-than-life prayer beads. It’s a genius observation. Consider the way subway maps are drawn.
Do you see the prayer beads? I wish I thought of that.
The other thing that’s going on are the visitations to unknown neighborhoods. He becomes a stranger in a strange land in these places, searching for a moment with God to make itself known. He steps out in faith with the full assurance and confidence that he will find an open church where he can rest for a while.
In order for this to be a full, complete, and satisfying pilgrimage, the man has to be very focused on his prayer, and not distracted by all the activity going on around him. Each stop – or bead on the prayer beads – is a different prayer. His congregation changes every few minutes. He must also be aware of his surroundings, so that he navigates the subway system and streets successfully. There is no doubt some kind of human interaction on this pilgrimage, from buying a subway pass, to getting food, lodging, etc., so the nature of his intentions will be effected by his ever-changing community of travelers.
I think the man in the article has found a tremendous source for deep devotional prayer, smack dab in the midst of a place where prayer may be needed the most. He’s discovered a way to close the gap between the secular, work-a-day world, and a rich, thin space where God walks the journey with us.
What would it be like to find prayer beads or a Stations of the Cross path, or the footsteps of saints in our everyday activities? What would it be like to create a spiritual pilgrimage in the midst of a place that needs prayerful people to invite God into the midst of us, right here and now?
I’m going to go looking for such a pilgrimage in my own location. Anyone want to join me on the journey?