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June 14, 2021

The Pilgrimage to a Holy City

By Caleb King, Harvard ’23

Editor’s note: The following article was reprinted with permission from the Harvard Ichthus, a journal of Christian thought and expression produced by undergraduates at Harvard University.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
 As they go through the Valley of Baca
    they make it a place of springs;
    the early rain also covers it with pools.
 They go from strength to strength;
    each one appears before God in Zion.

- Psalms 84:5-7

Long-exposure sunset over a highway with Instagram vintage faded effect

When I consider the phrase “Holding highways in your heart” I think of my little brother, Moses. Ever since he could choose toys, he’s chosen cars. Starting from about age seven he tried to get dad to let him drive. By age eleven he would shift the gears while my dad worked the pedals and steered. By fourteen he would drive any chance he could get.

Even while he agonizingly waited to be old enough to get a license, he was always watching the road like a driver. He noticed every turn, memorized where gears were shifted, and watched every car that passed by with incredible intensity.  He never went to sleep in the car (I almost never stayed awake). Now, finally, he is sixteen and has his very own (provisional) South Carolina State driver’s license.

Now that he can drive, it can feel like I’ve lost my brother to the road most days. Even when he can’t drive or has nowhere to go, he will still spend hours just sitting in the car, fiddling with settings, cleaning every crack, and dreaming of when he’ll get back on the highways. It can all seem a bit much. But, when he drives me places (despite being twenty I still don’t have my license), I can always count on him to know the way or figure out where we’re going. Because he has the highways stored safely in his heart.

But what does it mean to have the highways to Zion stored in our hearts? If we are Christians, then we are pilgrims. And pilgrims have destinations. The Christian life is not a one-time visit to any location in modern-day Israel or anywhere else, but is a pattern of life modeled after the pilgrimage that Psalm 84 is talking about: the yearly procession of the people of God to Zion, to the temple, and to the king.

We walk as faithful witnesses waiting until we can enter the eternal Zion. Like the ancient Israelites, our destination is the Holy City. Just as they went to the City of David to enter into the presence of the Lord, to worship, to offer sacrifices, to be in house of the Lord, so we look towards going to the City of Christ, the Son of David. There we will enter into the presence of the Lord on the merits of God’s perfect sacrifice, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever! This radically linear and directional conception of both our story and history is summarized beautifully in the account of Abraham found in Hebrews:

People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. – Hebrews 11:14-16

 
As the child of Americans living in Rwanda, I have never felt like the place I am from is my home or that my home is where I am from. Returning to the United States for college has only heightened this realization. This is why when I was visited a friend over the 2019 winter break—despite a fun trip and good first semester—I sat alone on a mattress on the floor, read those three verses from Hebrews and started sobbing.

It was the first time I had cried since I had left Rwanda and come to America. I had no home. And since my accent, blond hair, and blue American passport guaranteed that no one would ever question my nationality, I was left asking myself the question no one ever thought they needed to: where am I really from? And then in that moment I had read the most incredible thing: God was willing to answer the question for me. I am from the country God is preparing for his people. An eternal city. He didn’t look down on me because of my confused identity, but instead used that longing to tell me one thing I had never really allowed myself to hear: God is not ashamed to be called my God. And he hasn’t just some new spiritual feeling for me but a future, certain, eternal homeland.

Learning to write the highways to Zion on my heart is about embracing my restlessness and accepting on faith that when I get there, it will be my home. It is about faithfulness, justice, and mercy. It is about watching this life the same way Moses watches the roads.

As I think about the last year and the restrictions of COVID-19, understanding that our lives never stand still is so important. We have a destination that a pandemic is not  able to touch.

But we’re not in Zion yet, so are we lost to where we are right now? Are we allowed to give up on the Valley of Weeping that we live in? What does Zion even mean for a life on the road? Those are the questions that constantly challenge me.

caleb king Caleb King is a rising junior and a member of CU Gloria, Christian Union's ministry at Harvard University. To stay up to date with important articles like this one regarding Christian Union's leadership development efforts at some of our nation's most influential universities, please subscribe to our newsletter: Click here. 

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