Maggie Niles,
Grace Church, Honesdale

What a lucky find I had recently. Jack Jazreel writing in Oneing, a publication of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM, makes some helpful observations for those of us considering and reconsidering pilgrimages:

Isn’t it instructive that the spiritual formation of the original disciples happens
with Jesus on the road? In effect, the disciples learn by doing. They grow into an
understanding of this God of love, this God of compassion, this God who loves
justice, this God who makes all things new, by participating as active observers and
agents of compassion, justice, and newness. And, yes, necessarily, they pause with
Jesus to reflect, ask questions (sometimes stupid questions), and pray. But the
spiritual adventure described in the four Gospels does not happen in the sanctuary;
it happens on the road, in the company of beggars, prostitutes and lepers.

Various sites on the web define pilgrimage as a religious journey or expedition or as a journey to a holy place. It is often made for personal reasons but often in the company of other people, sometimes with thousands of other people! Think of the hajj to Mecca for Muslims or the trek to Dharamsala for followers of the Buddha or the trip of that jolly bunch on the way to Canterbury. Chaucer peoples his pilgrimage with a variety of folks, beggars, prostitutes and lepers among them.

The most established pilgrimages I have been on have both finished in Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. It is a place named for St. James the apostle who was supposed to have arrived on the shore nearby in a stone boat kept afloat by scallops, and he was buried in a field nearby. Eight friends and I have walked together almost annually for over twenty-five years, and fifteen years ago we spent ten days walking and riding in vans along the Spanish route from just east of Pamplona (of bull running fame, just not when we were there). Ten years later we walked up from Portugal on a much less crowded route. In each pilgrimage we all wore scallop shells around our necks. There are, as you probably know, many routes from all over Europe toward Santiago, routes from Italy, southern Spain, France and Germany. In medieval times these routes were well worn, but after that and for the next several hundred years the pilgrims only numbered in the thousands. In this last generation, however, the numbers are up in the hundreds of thousands.

As we walked, other pilgrims from all over the world would join us for a few miles here and there, often sharing their stories. Like everyone else we had backpacks with rain gear and water bottles and old sneakers tied on. It was dry and blazingly hot some days and cool and damp other times. The roads were stony, wide and flat or stony, narrow and steep. Occasionally we strode along, but more often we huffed and puffed, pretending to admire whatever view was in front of us when we ran out of breath. Although this was a traditional religious pilgrimage many people were not religious at all. But they were respectful of each other and the journey. They loved the idea of testing themselves, inside and out, and there are bookcases full of winning accounts of the results.

When we finally arrived in the stone square in front of the Cathedral it was already crowded with sprawling, exhausted, jubilant groups of pilgrims, all taking pictures of each other to prove they did it. And we did too!



Image Copyright: asturianu / 123RF Stock Photo