I spent last week on pilgrimage in Iona Scotland.
Pilgrimage? When I first heard the term used for a modern day trip, I thought it quaint, old fashioned, maybe even medieval – did people go on pilgrimages today?
But my initial perception was far from the reality, turns out pilgrimage is one of (If not the top) reason for travel around to the world. Today pilgrimage is more popular than it was in the Middle Ages when millions made journeys to ancient sites in Europe. Today’s estimates over 200 million people traveling on pilgrimage.
But why would one go on a pilgrimage? Pilgrims go to ancient sites to find God, to be renewed, to confess sin. It is a time to connect with others on the journey and to think on life’s deeper questions. Pilgrims seek not a spa week or a week at Disneyland but an opportunity to take their place in history with countless others who have gone before them. They go to be changed.
I have been fortunate to have shared my life with a man who has opened me up to the joys of traveling. And while I did not call it a pilgrimage, over the years as I have stood in ancient churches I have been renewed and changed. Last year a visit to Montmartre in Paris brought tears to my eyes as I saw the mosaic of Christ with its golden and blue immensity in the church. Today the thought of it produces reverence and awe within me.
What is a pilgrimage? Some say that is a trip where you go to give honor and respect to those who have gone before you by standing in the places where they stood or honoring the things they honored. (So while my pilgrimages have been mostly to churches and other holy sites, I do think our family visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame would count too. Smile.)
Pilgrimages are a set aside time to be surprised and made new. But one caveat, some feel it isn’t a pilgrimage unless you suffer discomfort and must push yourself to endure. Physical discomfort, cold, hunger, exhaustion are all part of the journey. That is helpful to know – gave me a reality check for what I was in for. And, I believe questions that are part of pilgrimage as well – I especially like these from T.S. Elliot – words to live into during pilgrimage: Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? Next: Iona Two