September 15, 2017 // Diocese

Gentle embrace

During the Holy Spirits Pilgrimage on the Bourbon Trail, some of the pilgrims and Brother Gregory return from a hermitage.

By Allison M. Kincaid

A pilgrimage.

A journey to a sacred place.

A journey of prayer, renewal and discovery.

All of this and more were present throughout The Holy Spirits Pilgrimage on the Bourbon Trail that I went on recently with Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and Verso Ministries, in Kentucky. I decided to go on the pilgrimage for several reasons, but my main motivation was to deepen my relationship with God. What better way to do that than to travel with other young adults, meet new people and visit sacred places? I knew I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

There were multiple memorable moments along the journey — from the monk’s compline to the Bourbon Trail. However, the most impactful time for me was our morning with Brother Gregory.

Saturday morning, we spent time at the Abbey of Gesthemani. We met with one of the monks, Brother Gregory, who led us to Thomas Merton’s hermitage. We had a morning full of Brother Gregory’s stories, hiking on the beautiful grounds of the abbey and delicious fudge made by the monks. Brother Gregory shared stories from his life and his journey to the monastery. He talked about Merton and the monastic life in general and why people are drawn to it: the simplicity, the work, and the prayers to name a few reasons.

However, something Brother Gregory said more in passing than anything was that the monastic life offers stability. Yes, it’s probably one of the more obvious reasons why a person would want this lifestyle, but what Brother Gregory said about it truly resonated in my heart. In 2016, my life was uprooted and thrown into chaos. It became a state of constant flux.

Now, in 2017, my life has been busy but I’ve found something I was missing in 2016: stability. I’ve found a support system and my friends, my church, the weekly activities I participated in, and my prayer life are becoming consistent. I still travel frequently but I have a place to come back to that feels safe, supportive and stable.

That morning with Brother Gregory made me realize how truly blessed I am and I spent the rest of the trip praising God for all the work he has done in my life.

And then I realized something even more profound: I’ve been too hard on myself. I’ve been pushing myself to find that “thing” in my spiritual life — in all areas of my life — that moment when it all just clicks and I’m completely fine and joyful in the Lord and in my faith. But no matter what I’ve done, no matter how much I’ve prayed, no matter how many sacraments I partake in and no matter who I’ve talked to, I’ve still felt like I am missing something. Truthfully, this was my real motivation for this pilgrimage: to continue to push myself to find that moment. But that morning with Brother Gregory made me realize that I need to give myself a break.

I realized I don’t need to find that moment. I’ve already made tremendous progress in such a short time. And I need to not only continue to thank God, but also take a deep breath and relax in his arms.

Once I realized the stability I’ve gained and all the progress I’ve accomplished, a great sense of peace washed over me. For the rest of the trip, I was able to be still and to be in the moment at the same time. I was able to enjoy the distilleries, the bonfire, and the Cathedral of the Assumption with quiet amazement and a refreshed spirit. When I returned home Sunday evening, I didn’t feel physically, emotionally, mentally, and/or spiritually exhausted as on previous travel. I felt renewed and ready to face the world with a sense of stillness and peace I haven’t felt in a long time.

During the weeks that have passed since the pilgrimage, I’ve held on to this peace. My anxieties have calmed down considerably. My mindfulness of God and his presence in my life has increased steadily. My prayers have turned outward to those who are a part of my daily life and for those who I wish to be. I’ve started to create a “pilgrimage site” in my own heart — a sacred space filled with peace, love and mercy — and I’ve developed an awareness of the Holy Spirit, who fills my soul and my life.

No, I didn’t have life-changing revelations. I didn’t become filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t even feel a “change of heart.” What was bestowed on and within me during this pilgrimage was stillness, peace, and awareness and appreciation of God working in my life. No, it wasn’t a jolt of lightening but a long, gentle embrace of his love.

Interested in participating on a pilgrimage next year? Visit this site for more information:


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