If you read my blog or know me at all, then you know that I love the analogy of life being a journey and our need to focus on that journey. This perspective started back in High School when my Dad shared with me the Robert Hastings essay called “The Station.”
As I consider where I am in my journey and what lies ahead, I’ve decided to transform my journey into a pilgrimage. What is the difference? A pilgrimage is a journey that carries with it a greater significance, a journey of importance where the result can lead to a personal transformation. I am considering this a “threshold” pilgrimage. The passing between stages of life when I am not quite sure where I’m going next. Looking at these steps as a pilgrimage offers an ideal invitation to navigate the unknown. It becomes an intentional journey that moves me forward with clarity and boldness.
A pilgrimage has the ability to change our hearts and expand our minds. For a pilgrimage to be transformative, one must leave behind what is comfortable, safe, and familiar. It must be a journey of reflection, curiosity, following a compass of faith, and facing obstacles; plus accepting and appreciating the pain of the journey itself. A journey becomes a pilgrimage through its uniqueness and the presence we bring to it.
A pilgrimage is a quest, and a quest begins with a question. Both quest and question are derived from the Latin ‘quaerere’, which means ‘to ask or to search for.’ Asking the right question makes us think about the way we lead and live our lives. Purposeful questions are more important than the answers, as they can reveal the path.
“If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentment, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared — most of all — to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself… then truth will not be withheld from you.” — Elizabeth Gilbert, an American journalist, and author, best known for her 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love.
I look at approaching this pilgrimage the way I do a long hike. The motivation and excitement are around the hike itself and what that process offers. A hike is a slow trek in nature that provides physical exercise as well as time for reflection and communion with my being. They are walks of convictions, purpose, and direction. As JRR Tolkien wrote, “Not all those who wander are lost.” A pilgrimage can, at times, be a period of wandering.
Paul Simon’s “Graceland” is my best example of a pilgrimage song. The song’s lyrics describe a road trip with a father and his 9-year-old son, leaving behind heartbreak and a decadent New York City scene headed to Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. However, the song’s creation is really where the pilgrimage connection is hidden. Paul Simon traveled to South Africa to record with a variety of local musicians. This was no easy task, as many nations were boycotting the country because of their racist apartheid policy. Graceland is a song whose combined sound transforms effortlessly between various cultures. Paul Simon left behind what was familiar and created music better than he could envisaged.
Salvation history is the story of a pilgrimage. Abram journeys from civilization to the desert, Moses from the Pharaoh’s palace to a mountaintop. The people of Israel repeat Moses’ journey and are led through the desert to the Promised Land. All these journeys are God inspired, where He accompanied them. We likewise should be on a pilgrimage, not so much in the sense of a physical journey, but in living our current, earthly lives in a way that brings us closer to Him.
It’s in asking questions, seeking, and knocking (Luke 11:9-10) along our pilgrimage, that we will discover who God has created us to be. In the words of St. Augustine, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”
In the Letter to the Hebrews (11:8-10), more is written about Abraham’s pilgrimage of faith: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise; for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God”.
St. Peter wrote his first letter to the Christian communities located in five provinces of Asia Minor. Peter encouraged them to remain faithful on their earthly pilgrimage to their standards of belief and conduct as a people who have received mercy and are to proclaim and live according to God’s call. This was despite the difficulty of living the Christian life in a hostile, secular environment that espoused different values and subjected the Christian minority to ridicule, oppression, and threats of persecution. In 1 Peter 2:11, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and sojourners to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against the soul.”
Our pilgrimage upon this earth began when we were born. Each of the moments we live are the ones that “count” and that prepare us for our destination. The pilgrimage process is about the grace, custom-designed for each of us by the Holy Spirit, imparted by God’s power and in God’s perfect time. This is the greatest reason to listen for and respond to God’s call to transform our journey into a pilgrimage.