A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey and it is the spiritual content that differentiates it from any other kind of tour, expedition or trip. A pilgrim is not a tourist. It is a way of getting yourself out of the way. While I was walking on the Camino de Santiago in Spain several years ago, I crafted my own definition of a pilgrim: A Pilgrim is a person who is on an inward spiritual journey of learning and growth that involves some element of loss or pain, and which most often coincides with a physical journey from place to place. Most often the physical destination is a sacred place that has spiritual and religious meaning.
Why go on a Pilgrimage?
People go on pilgrimages for as many reasons as there are pilgrims. A pilgrimage provides the opportunity to step out of the non-stop busyness of our lives, to seek a time of quiet and reflection. It is an opportunity to pray in our own way, and gives us the chance to ‘walk through’ those issues that we have on our minds, whatever they might be. In prayer, it offers the chance to re-energise mentally, physical and spiritually. It allows us to connect with God and the natural world—as well as to refresh our faith or seek spiritual direction.
The reasons for going on a pilgrimage might be:
- To set aside time for God and feel closer to him
- To discern his will and guidance at times of transition or difficulty
- To be strengthened in faith
- To feel inspired by the communion of saints who have gone before us
Often, people go on a pilgrimage when they are at a crossroads in their lives – when undergoing a change in their life’s direction or relationships. Others may be in search of a deeper spirituality, healing and forgiveness. Or it may be that pilgrimage marks a special birthday, retirement or other occasion for giving thanks. I experienced pilgrimage walking on the Camino de Santiago in Spain at the time I “retired” from paid employment in the high tech industry. It gave me an opportunity to look inside and refocus my life.
The joy of pilgrimage
A pilgrimage can be a life-changing, transformational experience. A time of letting go of the old to let the new come in. Pilgrims don’t merely visit a place as tourists, they come away inspired and changed by it in some way. Going on a pilgrimage may give us a new sense of awareness and wonder. Or result in a greater sense of our life’s purpose. Pilgrimage helps to illuminate the journey of life by helping us to focus on ‘what really matters’ and to rediscover the joy of giving and generosity. We receive a greater appreciation for life’s gifts and God’s gifts.
Getting more out of pilgrimage
Before going, it is best to think through the reasons why you are going on pilgrimage. What is your purpose? What do you want to get out of it? Can you be praying for others as you walk? If ter are spiritually significant places on route, plan to visit and spend time at them. BY the same token, be attentive as you travel to the messages you may receive, and insights you gain from the unexpected sights sounds and people you encounter. Be open to those you meet and be prepared to help one another. And mark your journey in some way—perhaps by keeping a journal, taking photos, sketching or writing poetry. Learning to be adaptable is the mark of a real pilgrim—it’s when the best things often happen. Accept that adversity is as much a part of pilgrimage as the joy and gladness that comes from reaching your destination.
A pilgrimage will not leave you untouched. The result depends on you how you will treat yourself, your faith and people you meet along the way. Challenging little things like pain of tired feet or heavy backpack, or lack of food will set me free. It can be a liberating experience that sets you free from misconceptions, fears or uncertainties, and bring back proper proportions to your life.