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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

In Place Pilgrimage | March 10, 2024 Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake

As a child, I knew little about pilgrimage. I sang as did the other congregants of First Baptist, Mt. Zion District, Liberty, MO, the intimate hymn, Close to Thee:

Thou my everlasting portion,

More than friend or life to me,

All along my pilgrim journey,

Savior, let me walk with Thee.

Refrain 1:

Close to Thee, close to Thee,

Close to Thee, close to Thee;

All along my pilgrim journey,

Savior, let me walk with Thee.

The hymn was an aspiration that wherever I would journey in life, I would be in good company for the Savior would walk with me. “No, never alone. God (He) promised never to leave me alone.” Always, there would be an encompassing partner sharing the journey and strengthening me. The oft-recited Psalm 23 assured that grand, faithful, and all-pervading presence.

The Eternal shepherds me, I lack for nothing;

he makes me lie in meadows green, 

he leads me to refreshing streams,

and revives life in me.


He guides me by true paths, as he himself is true.

My road may run through a glen of gloom,

but I fear no harm, for thou art beside me;

thy club, thy staff – they give me courage.


Thou art my host, spreading a feast for me,

while my foes have to look on!

Thou hast poured oil upon my head, my compass brimming over;

yes, and all through my life Goodness and Kindness wait on me,

the Eternal's guest, within his household evermore.

On the secular side, stories of the pilgrims were integral components of my early childhood education. We were reminded of their heroic pilgrimage from European oppression to what would become the United States of America. I have corrected the false history realizing that it was “his story,” not the story of the Indigenous people who were caretakers before the arrival of the pilgrims. As a child, we often used the word story as a synonym for lie. It was not polite to say that a person was telling a lie. We said instead that they were telling a story.

Several years ago, I finally finished reading John Brown’s Pilgrim Progress, a magnificent allegory of the Christian Journey. Bunyan also wrote the song: He Who Would Valiant Be.

One of the most impactful accounts of pilgrimage is that of Malcolm X. His pilgrimage to Mecca for Hajj, a requirement for Muslims if they are able in terms of finances, health, and if the Hajj does not place an undue burden. Malcolm makes Hajj, walks around the Ka’ab, and is forever changed spiritually and politically. He dropped anti-white rhetoric as he met Muslims across racial lines who were in line with his thoughts. Changing his name to “El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, he created two new organizations: The Muslim Mosque, Inc., and The Organization of Afro-American Unity in which our recently departed community member, Gus Newport, played a significant role.    


Glancing upward from my laptop, I see a bound copy of Tolstoy’s Two Pilgrims. What an extraordinary soul Tolstoy was! With great clarity Two Pilgrims states the necessity for us to help those along the way as we engage in our pilgrimage. And we must cultivate generosity so that we do not lose the God that is already within us. That is more important than reaching the designated end place of the pilgrimage.

I love the idea of pilgrimage but how does one find the time, resources, and commitment in an urban/suburban environment?

Madeline Severtson studied with me in a Special Reading Course for her Master of Divinity Degree at Pacific School of Religion. Journey with me for the next ten days to experience how she responded to my question with "New Worlds Being Born: A Pilgrimage-in Place with Howard Thurman." This was her final, extraordinary project for the class.


Severtson - New Worlds Being Born Pilgrimage - Updated Nov 2020 (1)
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