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Rediscovering identity in Christ through pilgrimage

Rediscovering identity in Christ through pilgrimage

Rediscovering identity in Christ through pilgrimage

17 January 2020

A spiritual pilgrimage is an opportunity to slow down, listen afresh to God, and re-establish who we are in Christ. Photo by Jorge Luis Ojeda Flota on Unsplash

By Lieutenant-Colonel David Godkin

The year 2018 was challenging for our family in many ways. It was also a year of changes and new directions with my leadership and ministry. I was taken out of my comfort zone and I didn’t like it. In fact, it was one of the fiercest battles I have ever fought and I convinced myself I was losing big time. No matter what I did I just couldn’t bounce back anymore. I was exhausted physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

They say life is not about the destination but the journey. I wasn’t enjoying the journey any longer.

So I did something about it. I ran away!

Let me explain.

I had read of an ancient spiritual pilgrimage called the Camino de Santiago or The Way of St James. It was an 800km journey on foot from the French Pyrenees to a north-western town in Spain where tradition has it that the remains of the apostle James are buried. Many pilgrims have travelled this way since the Middle Ages as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth.

There was something within that was calling me to a spiritual pilgrimage even though I had no idea what that meant. I had no desire to visit the buried remains of St James and have never heard of Santiago de Compostela or its magnificent cathedral. I am a destination type of person; I don’t always savour and enjoy the journey, I just want to get from A to B as quickly as I can (which might explain the speeding fines).

So I became a pilgrim. I was graciously granted a five-week sabbatical from my role, packed the barest of essentials into a 10kg backpack and set off on my 30-day, 800km journey. The traditional way of the pilgrim is to travel alone, by foot, carrying all the material possessions we might need for the journey and leaving behind all that is superfluous, travelling only with the bare necessities. I walked between 22 and 34 kilometres a day, staying in very simple backpacker accommodation each night. Some of the small towns had populations of less than 30 people yet swelled to triple that number with the visiting pilgrims.

This was my physical path and journey. It was going well, when all you have to do is walk 25km in a day; so it’s not that hard really. No distractions of phones, emails or timelines. My preparation for the inner journey was similar. I had to start by discarding any excess psychological baggage accumulated over the years. Resentments, self-talk, prejudices, hurts, shame, disappointments and outmoded belief systems.

So, with an open heart and mind determined to listen afresh to God, I set out on this journey to slow down and allow some spaciousness into my life. In this quieter place, I was able to reflect on the deeper significance of my life and the reasons God created me to be who I was. I walked, I prayed, I talked with other pilgrims on similar journeys, I took time to enjoy creation while walking through sun, wind, rain and snow and dodging cattle, sheep, goats, geese and an extremely curious donkey who could smell the muesli bar in my backpack.

On reflection, I had allowed myself to be thrown onto the surface of my life. My identity was found in my business card. What I did had become more important than who I was. I had mistaken busyness for aliveness. This superficial existence was inherently unsatisfying.

Pilgrimage enabled me to rediscover who I was in Christ. A precious child of the most-high God who has a perfect plan for my life. A realisation that who I am in Christ will have a greater impact for the kingdom of God than anything I ever do. I highly recommend pilgrimage.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Godkin is the Divisional Commander of The Salvation Army in Queensland.



  1. In 2017,the world celebrated the 500 th anniversary of the reformation of the Christian church. My husband Railton + myself took furlough from our appointment as COs and went on our own personal pilgrimage following the tracks and details surrounding Martin Luther + friends , the 95 theses nailed to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral, and the back to basics of the five ‘solas’ . It was astounding to see these celebrated throughout the streets of small European towns and cities... We followed the story from Wittenberg, Gutenberg, Germany and (drove a little car) through the associated Zurich, Geneva in Switzerland.
    It was a real and personal experience to own the same foundations that the Reformation whittled down , discarding and refuting the need for superfluous ‘gospels’ that had been held high. I claim this again ... through grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone , in scripture alone, all to the glory of God alone! Whoo hoo... Thank you Jesus. May we still be seen honouring the 5 ‘solas’ or ‘alone’ statements of the Reformation, instead of glorifying and deifying the numerous other causes and holding them as ‘new’ gospels to worship!

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