The idea of Pilgrimage is an interesting one to me. Four of my friends have completed the El Camino de Santiago, which leads to the traditional burial ground of the apostle James. People take pilgrimages to seek wisdom, find God, or visit a thin place where earth and heaven seem very close to each other. There are three principal Christian pilgrimages: Jerusalem, Rome, and El Camino.
I have made only one of these pilgrimages: Jerusalem. Many people go there to “walk where Jesus walked,” and for those that can’t go there, the stations of the cross were created. The stations take you through Jesus’ path to the cross, and you don’t even have to leave home to do it.
I still consider my summer living in Tel Aviv, Israel, one of the highlights of my life; but I think it had less to do with the location and more to do with displacing myself into another culture, where I didn’t know the language or customs. That kind of pilgrimage sort of breaks open the walls we build to keep ourselves safe; we come face to face with our shadow side, and we have an opportunity to heal.
Displacement is a shortcut to this kind of growth and healing, and you don’t have to leave town to displace yourself. Just immerse yourself in a different cultural group. Hang out with people in a church, synagogue, or community group that is different than yours.
The idea of pilgrimage goes deeper than traveling somewhere to visit a holy site. In her book, Illuminating the Way: Embracing the wisdom of Monks and Mystics,” Christine Valters Painter suggests that we each have an inner Pilgrim —
“The part of ourselves drawn to make long voyages in search of something for which we long. This inward geography of the journey, one where we may physically travel only a few feet or miles but where the soul moves in astronomical measure.” (pg. 100)
- Travel to a holy place; it doesn’t have to be sacred to your religion, displace yourself into someone else’s holy place and see what you find of God there. I would desperately love to go to the Island of Iona, a thin place in Scotland; it’s on my bucket list.
- Try walking with Jesus through the stations of the cross. As a non-Catholic, I find this an enlightening exercise. Many churches and Catholic retreat centers have these open to the public, or you can google one to try online.
- Take yourself on an inner pilgrimage without leaving home. Many good books will lead you into a deeper place you long for. You might follow Phileena Heuretz on her pilgrimage to El Camino in her book “Pilgrimage of the Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life.”
- Take a pilgrimage into your own emotions. We generally want to flee from difficult emotions like anger, fear, or sadness. Instead, welcome them, sit with them, explore them, and see what they have to teach you.
I’d love to hear about any pilgrimages you have taken and how they have affected you!