In the Valley of Baka

In the Valley of Baka

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.” Psalm 84:5-6

I’ve been thinking a lot about pilgrimage lately. That makes sense, given my impending trip to the Holy Land. But “pilgrimage” does not enter our consciousness on a regular basis. At its most basic, a pilgrimage is a journey. But it is also so much more.

When we traveled to England to explore our Wesleyan/Methodist heritage in 2016, I went with the eager anticipation of touching history, viewing places that I had only ever read about and imagined in my mind, and gaining fresh insights into my faith. It was spectacular, and it gave me a greater sense of connection to John Wesley and the early history of Methodism and my faith.

As far as touching history goes though, Israel, and Palestine, and Egypt are a full level of magnitude above that. It’s not merely occupying the same historical space that another preacher occupied 300 years earlier. This is touching thousands of years of history and occupying the same historical space as Emmanuel, God with us. Walking through the same dust that clung to Jesus feet. Touching the waters of the same lakes and rivers where he was baptized, where he fished and walked and boated with his friends. Gazing at the same mountains where Jesus taught. Touching the same rock on which Jesus died.

When I go on vacation, I expect to return home exhausted, with a lot of pictures and a good story or two. As I prepare to go on pilgrimage, however, I am excepting all of that and more. And it scares me a little. It scares me because I know those who seek God will find God, and part of that unbelievable blessing is change. God changes hearts and minds. We see this happen many times in the bible (Abraham, Jacob, Moses…), and God has worked change in my life a lot… and I have only been dipping my toes in the shallow end of the pool. This feels a bit like cannon-balling into the deep end. I worry because  change is nerve-wracking, and I don’t know exactly how I’ll be changed on this journey; I just know that I will. On the other hand, I worry that the places might just be places, that I won’t be changed at all… it feels, to me, like there’s a chance I might dive in and find the pool all dried up.

I take comfort and courage from the words of the psalmist concerning pilgrims. The psalmist refers to the Valley of Baka, a dry valley where only certain dry weather vegetation can survive.  For pilgrims though, even that dry valley can become a place of fresh water springs and autumnal pools as the pilgrims pass through it – because they find God is with them even there. As we put our strength in God and make our pilgrimage (wherever our path may lead), God is walking with us, quenching our thirst and giving us life.

Thirsting for more,
Pastor Mike

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