What makes a pilgrimage a pilgrimage?
The spiritual practice of pilgrimage is as ancient as they come. For thousands of years, pilgrims have set out on soul-stirring journeys to Sacred sites. Some of these pilgrimages were a religious requirement—a pillar of faith, as with the Hajj in Islam. Other journeys were taken as a gesture of penance, as with the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, where upon completion of the journey it was declared that your sins were forgiven. Others were undertaken in pursuit of healing, as with Lourdes, or simply because of the pilgrim’s desire to encounter the Holy in tangible ways, such as pilgrimages taken to the Holy Land to walk in the footsteps of Christ.
While these journeys differ in purpose and pursuit, they each share one thing in common: they’re tied to a destination. In fact, the practice of pilgrimage has been tied to a destination for most of its existence, always thought to be a journey to a place of significance.
To many, it seems as if this is the main requirement. But I’m here to tell you that pilgrimage is not as much about the destination as it might seem—at least the traditional ones often thought of when the practice of pilgrimage comes to mind. While many might define a pilgrimage as a journey to a Sacred site, I like to put more emphasis on the entirety of the journey rather than just the destination.
To me, pilgrimage is a Sacred journey—a movement that brings us toward our True Selves and the Divine. It is a soul-stirring journey in search of transformation and Sacred Encounter.
While for you, this might very well look like a 500-mile walk across northern Spain or a week immersed in the thin place of Iona, you could also equally encounter the Divine and experience transformation while backpacking across Europe or spending time in creation like we’ll be doing on our upcoming Creation Pilgrimage (find out how you can join us here). And because pilgrimage is a Sacred journey, you don’t necessarily have to leave home to live like a pilgrim, either. Any pilgrimage—whether at home and abroad—simply requires these three things:
1. A JOURNEY
The reason pilgrimage is such a powerful experience is because it involves leaving behind what is comfortable and known in pursuit of transformation. This might be a physical journey to another country or landscape, but it could also be one of the many journeys we experience in everyday life, whether in relationships, faith, vocation, and beyond. While these journeys happen all the time, they begin to shift when we claim them as significant and begin to approach each step of the journey with curiosity and intention, just as a pilgrim would do on a journey abroad.
2. ENGAGEMENT WITH THE TRUE SELF
Whether a pilgrimage at home or abroad, each journey is a quest, each quest begins with a question, and each question is sourced deep within the soul. For a pilgrimage to be transformative, it has to be a journey of listening deeply, following the pilgrim’s compass of intuition, and facing the obstacles of the ego, temptation, and the false self so that the True Self—who you are in God’s image—can be revealed.
3. SACRED ENCOUNTER
In the practice of pilgrimage, the pursuit of the Divine is at the beginning, middle, and end of the journey and everywhere in between. It’s what fuels any pilgrimage, and when it comes to transformation, it’s the alchemy that turns what’s rudimentary into gold. While the spiritual nature of the pilgrimage might be subtle or overt, one thing is certain for the pilgrim at home or abroad—it’s the Sacred Guide who leads the journey each step of the way.