When we think of pilgrimage, journeys to far-off lands often come to mind, right?
Perhaps you get an image of a medieval pilgrim walking the long road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, a bundle of belongings thrown over his back and a staff in hand. Or maybe you think of the large groups of people who journey to places like Lourdes in France each year in search of healing. Perhaps it’s the multi-step journey to Iona in Scotland that comes to mind, which begins with a ferry from the west coast of Scotland, a drive across the Isle of Mull, and another ferry before you reach the Holy Isle (not to mention whatever is required just to get you to the west coast of Scotland).
All of these journeys are adventures, no doubt, and opportunities to encounter new cultures and learn about new ways of encountering God. But for a journey to be a true pilgrimage, there must be an interior journey, too. In the end, that’s why we leave home, after all—because the journey out can always lead to a journey in. It’s the interior journey that makes an ordinary trip into a pilgrimage and transforms a tourist into a pilgrim. And while an exterior journey or traditional pilgrimage is certainly a valuable practice for initiating an interior journey, you don’t have to leave home to begin an interior journey—you just need to be willing to engage the journey within.
Here are 5 steps for engaging the interior journey to help lead you along the path:
1. name your question
Every journey begins with a question, and in The Art of Pilgrimage, author Phil Cousineau tells us that it is our questions that lead us to our quest. To discern your question, listen to your longing—What is it that brings you to the interior journey? What do you hope to encounter and discover? Like the pilgrim, approach this step with curiosity, allowing the question to unfold along the way if it isn’t clear from the beginning. (Sometimes this can even be the most authentic form of journeying, as we can be certain that we’re not trying to control the journey and force the outcome, but instead allowing the Sacred Guide to lead.)
2. enter in
When you begin a journey, you cross a threshold. On an exterior journey, the shift is obvious, because the world around you is different—you have left home and entered into foreign territory. This shift in the interior journey is more difficult to notice, however, because we’re often still embedded in everyday life. To fully enter in, establish regular spiritual practices that can help you shift from the outer world to the inner one as you set aside what’s happening in everyday life for a time to focus on what’s happening within. Contemplative practices and the postures of silence, stillness, and solitude are excellent tools for this. Learn how to practice 7 forms of contemplative prayer here.
3. find a guide
Whether it’s a spiritual director, pastor, trusted friend, or favorite author, find a guide to keep you accountable to your commitment and accompany you along the way. Find a spiritual director in your area at sdiworld.org.
4. bring the whole self
This is easier with a traditional pilgrimage, as it’s more obvious that your whole self is joining you on the journey. Life at home, however, can be compartmentalized, and if we’re not intentional, we might end up thinking the interior journey is just about the mind rather than the body and soul. To round out the journey and bring your whole self, incorporate movement into your practice. Emulate the pilgrim by taking long walks or walking a labyrinth, letting your feet do the praying for a change. Creative practice is another way to bring the whole self, allowing the images held deep within the soul to come to the surface and serve as waymarkers along the path.
5. prepare an altar
Most pilgrimages involve a journey to a Sacred site, and just because your journey is an interior one, it doesn’t mean you can’t create a Sacred site of your own. Do so right at home by creating an altar on a side table, shelf, or in a vacant corner. Visit this place to renew your intention, just as you would any other Sacred site, and add elements that reflect your quest and intention as the journey unfolds, allowing it to become an outer representation of the journey you are taking within.
(PS: Setting out on an outer journey? Because all types of pilgrimage involve an interior journey, these steps apply for journeys both near and far.)