United Thank Offering

Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About It.

October 8, 2019
United Thank Offering

This morning, as I trained for the walking portion of the UTO Pilgrims on the Camino, I was consumed with my mental checklist of things to pack. Of course, I will need the regular things for any trip. But what extra items might I need for five days of walking? How much do I really want to carry in my day pack? What would be helpful to have for unexpected situations? The list I generated from those questions was far too much for my small carry-on suitcase to accommodate.

As I walked along, thinking about the dilemma, I was distracted by a vibrantly flowering red mum. I stopped to take a picture. Looking down, I noticed my hiking shoes beside the flowers and thought, “This is the perfect image, for me, of my pilgrimage preparation” – the shoes that will carry me the 100+ kilometers across the Spanish countryside combined with the ability to notice and reflect on the beauty of the experience along the way.

The shoes represent all the training, the packing, the reading, the praying, and every other way I’ve prepared for this unique pilgrimage. I purchased these specific hiking shoes months ago to ensure time to break them in and assess their comfort. I’ve walked more than 75 miles in these shoes. I think they are ready. These shoes, along with the other items I’ll stash in my bag, are my preparation for the journey. They are necessary tools. They are not the only tools, however.

The other tool I’ll need is to be fully present. The flowers represent that ability to notice the beauty and to see God in every creation. Pilgrimage isn’t only about the travel, it’s about how the travel molds and shapes us along the way. That happens best when we are aware.

Some years ago, I was introduced to the work of Mary Oliver. My favorite of her poems is this:

Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About It!

It’s so simple I can memorize it. I’ve written it in the front of every journal I’ve had since then. It’s so profound that it never grows old. It applies to every situation! And it’s perfect for our pilgrimage.

As we tour and walk, we will experience a multitude of new adventures and sights. We can rush past them to get to the end of our journey, or we can Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About It. I want to do the latter. I want to lean into the experience and notice the beauty around. I want to create a space for the Holy Spirit to speak to me – to all of us – in a way that takes our breath away. I want to savor these moments, both in pilgrimage and in daily life.

As you receive and read this article, our pilgrims will already be in Spain. Some will be visiting grant sites, some will be walking. All of us will be experiencing a different place on this precious Earth. All of us will be promoting and raising funds for the UTO Camino Challenge grant to help create an Anglican Centre in Santiago where all Christians are welcome to receive Communion. All of us will have left our comfortable homes, going on an adventure we will share with you via our UTO Facebook page and future newsletters. You can join us by following our adventures. You can join us by praying for us, for all pilgrims, for the church in Spain and beyond. And most importantly, you can join us by being present wherever you are.

Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About It!

The Rev. Cn.
Heather Melton

Staff Officer for the United Thank Offering