FreerangeFriday: Lenten Pilgrimage part 1

by Lilly Lewin
IMG 5877

by Lilly Lewin

Last week I had the privilege to start Lent on a Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Montgomery, Birmingham and Selma, Alabama. I traveled with my husband  Rob, founder of Racial Beginners, and a group of new and old friends from Colorado, Michigan and Athens, GA. The group was organized through The Refuge Faith Community in Colorado. Over the past two years,  the group had worked through the 12 steps of Antiracism created by Melvin Bray. 

While I have family in Montgomery, sadly I had never been down to listen and learn about our history. The history of slavery and injustices caused by enslavement and racism that continues on through systems of oppression today.

Montgomery is the capital of Alabama and it was a major slave market, the first capital city of the confederacy ( Jefferson Davis was sworn in as the President of the Confederate States of America there), AND it is the city famous for the bus boycott and voters rights march from Selma to Montgomery. Pastor Kathy Escobar invited  me to be a part of the opening and closing reflections for our time together. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do or what would fit for our opening time together, but I asked the Holy Spirit for inspiration as I packed up my gear to drive down to join the pilgrimage. If you know me, you know I always have more ideas than I can use, so I just packed a bunch of things like rocks, candles, sharpie makers, art supplies, bubbles etc. And I asked Jesus to weave it all together and give me wisdom about what he wanted to do. I knew I wanted to begin our time with our thinplace candle lighting practice and I brought a patchwork quilt for a southern inspired tablecloth. I found out later on the trip that slaves used patchwork quilts as maps for the underground railroad. It also happened that we were starting our pilgrimage on ASH WEDNESDAY!  In my tradition, we remember that we are dust and to dust will will return and the priest or pastor uses ashes mixed with oil to place a cross on our foreheads as a visual reminder of this. So I happened to have some lavender oil from thistlefarms  so I threw it in my bag.  I thought about the soil, the dirt, that we would be walking on and I had an idea inspired by Fr. Edward Hays in his Lenten Labyrinth Devotional . He invites people to bag up some dirt and keep it near you on your desk during Lent to remind you of “dust to dust.” I also thought about a quote from Jan Richardson, “Did you not know what the Holy One can do with Dust?” .

9af8dbaf a584 4631 989a 24815039d819

I process things out loud, so I was sharing with Rob what I was thinking about for that night’s opening reflection. I wanted each person to carry dirt, the dirt, the soil of Montgomery with them on this pilgrimage. Rob stopped me and tells me that the Legacy Museum, where we are going on Thursday, has jars of dirt collected from where a person was lynched. A visual symbol of the terrorism black people had to endure. WOW! chills! I had no idea!

When we got to Montgomery, I collected some soil outside the Cracker Barrel restaurant near our hotel. I had brought some small zip lock bags from home. During our opening reflection, I invited them to pass around the soil and use the lavender oil mixed with water to make a cross, rub in their hands, or on their foreheads and to put some dirt, some soil in a zip lock bag to carry with them during our pilgrimage together. I read this prayer that I wrote on the drive down.

Ash Wednesday on Pilgrimage in Montgomery, Alabama
From Dirt you were created … to dirt you shall return…
We are in a new place
A place of learning & listening
On new soil
soil, dirt, that is new to us
soil that bares witness to history and to people we are here to learn from.
Creator God
give us eyes to see
Creator God
give us ears to hear, Creator God
give us hearts open in compassion
and hearts willing to break because of things that have broken your heart for generations.
Help us listen to the cries of the soil
and not turn away
Help us learn from this dirt.
We are all dirt and we will all return to this dirt. This soil. Amen
IMG 6063

The Soil from Lynching Sites

IMG 6064

A visual reminder of lynchings in Alabama

I had no idea that the Equal Justice Initiative is collecting dirt as a memorial for the victims of lynching. I had no idea of the the power of those jars filled with dirt in the Legacy Museum! BUT GOD DID! THE HOLY SPIRIT KNEW!


I invite you to get some dirt from your yard or from somewhere in your neighborhood and put it in a bag or jar to carry with you during Lent. Use this dirt, this soil, to consider the legacy of the place where you live. Use it as an opportunity to learn the history of the marginalized people in your town. Do you know the history of racial injustice where you live? Do you know about the Indigenous people who lived there first? Do you know about the racial history? How can you learn more during Lent? Who can you invite to join you on your journey? 

We must truthfully confront our history of racial injustice before we can repair its painful legacy. equal justice initiative

I had no idea there were six lynchings (that they have records for ) in my county, Davidson County, Nashville. I had no idea that one of them involved 10,000 white people stringing up an innocent man off the bridge that is just a few miles from my house. This was in 1892….but the soil still speaks. This is hard history, but one we must face in order to understand why we are where we are now in America and in order to heal.  The trauma is not just in the generations of the black community, but in the generations of white people who participated and those who stood by.

In Psalm 103 we are reminded that we have a God who can help us in all of this and travels with us on this journey of healing !  I am forever grateful! We are greatly loved and we are NOT ALONE!


The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
 slow to anger, abounding in love.
 He will not always accuse,
 nor will he harbor his anger forever;
 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
 or repay us according to our iniquities.
 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
 so great is his love for those who fear him;
 as far as the east is from the west,
 so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
 so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
 The Lord remembers that we are dust.


1fc4f62a 9408 448b a7d8 a4650c619bf0



“The ashes on our head remind us that we are dust and to dust we will return. Yet upon this dust of ours,
God blew his Spirit of life. So we should no longer live our lives chasing dust, chasing things that are here today and gone tomorrow.
Let us return to the Sprit the Giver of Life, let us return to the Fire that resurrects our ashes.”

Join me on Pilgrimage to Scotland! August 28-September 4, 2023. We are working on reducing the price so keep checking back. Please email if you have questions or are interested.

©lillylewin and

Preparing for the Garden Walk of Holy Week

In the last few days of his life, Jesus moved from garden to garden from suffering to resurrection.

Join Christine Sine for a Lent retreat that reflects on this journey and prepares for the challenging week that follows Palm Sunday.

Click here to register! We are once again offering several price points to aid those who are students or in economic hardship

You may also like

Leave a Comment