A number of years ago, a good friend and colleague of mine almost died of spinal meningitis. When he fully recovered, he took a sabbatical and walked The Camino – an ancient pilgrim road that begins a variety of places in Spain (he started in the mountains) and concludes at the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago. His walk was a journey of thanksgiving for his life. When he returned he was changed – more relaxed, less anxious, happier, even joyful. That was my first taste of the potential of pilgrimage.
I’ve been reading a book entitled “The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s guide to making Travel Sacred” by Philip Cousineau. I started it several months ago, reading in bits and pieces, as a way of making this particular journey more of pilgrimage than simply an educational experience. It seems to me that a Touristtravels to learn more about the world, to experience the culture, to bring home something of it (whether pictures or artifacts), expecting to have their outer horizons widened. And, in fact many of our journeys have done just that. It’s a good thing to do. And has helped learn how different cultures shape different perspectives.
A Pilgrim travels to discover the sacred. In pilgrimage there is an intention and ongoing attention to that intention. According to Cousineau, pilgrimage is derived from the Latin peligrinus, “the journey of a person who travels to shrine or holy place”(p.528 e-version), like what my friend did. “What is sacred is what is worthy of our reverence, what evokes awe and wonder in the human heart, and what when contemplated transforms us utterly”.(p. 360). In Pilgrimage there is both an inward and outward journey – a discovery of the other who, it turns out is ourselves.
Three years ago we went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a group of Episcopalians from our area and some from Maine (we knew them, too!). It was an exciting trip, but even more intense than the pace of cruising and I found it more of tourist experience than an actual pilgrimage, in spite of the inclusion of regular prayer, primarily because so much was crammed in to our itinerary. I realized then that my own interior style requires more silence and space. I’m still integrating the experience of that important journey.
I’ve discovered, at least so far on this particular journey, that I waver back and forth between tourist and pilgim. Perhaps that is the distinct disadvantage of cruising, in which you move from port to port, without a lot of time in one place. I do find myself stepping into holy places and longing to linger to absorb the energy of centuries of prayer and the expressions of the holy that adorn the spaces. The broad brush approach, however, can be linked in the imagination to get an even larger perspective, that when put together give me a multicolored picture of a particular culture. That is somewhat true so far. What is necessary for me is time to absorb and reflect. The days at sea help with that, but I am finding there are not enough for this part of the journey.
So, Tourist or Pilgrim? Some of both certainly but I strongly prefer Pilgrim and look for Holy Presence wherever it might be evident. As Cousineau says, “In each of us dwells a pilgrim. It is the part of us that longs to have direct contact with the sacred.”(p. 1502)
May you discover yours!
NB> Reflections on Machu Picchu coming soon!