St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Mountain Top
Before arthritis caught up with me, I was an enthusiastic backpacker with a goal of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in one year. Sadly, that item from my bucket list will not be checked off. But I do have some thoughts about the similarities and differences between a long distance hike and a pilgrimage.
To plan for a long distance hike means acquiring the necessary skills and equipment needed to be able to sustain oneself during a journey of approximately six months. It means learning to take just the essentials and not one ounce more, because every extra ounce you take will have to be carried over 2100 miles and over enough elevation gains to equal 17 Mount Everests! It is a fine line between being over-equipped and under-prepared to be able to handle every eventuality. It is the skills a hiker acquires before the hike which determines how successfully that critical balance can be managed. This includes the mental skills to be able to handle the discomfort of blisters and rain and hunger and pain and keep going toward the goal of completing the trail.
Starting a pilgrimage is much easier, but it has to come with the realization that there is something about us that needs fixing. That we are not heading in a proper direction, or we are having dysfunctional relationships, or our spiritual path has become blocked. We go on a pilgrimage perhaps with an external destination in mind, but the journey in reality is one to delve inside ourselves to heal that which ails us.
Many backpackers find that in the zen of putting one foot in front of another five million times, their journey evolves into a pilgrimage as they find that they cannot escape their own demons in the beauty and silence that surrounds them. For some, the resulting pain is something they wish to avoid. Only about 25% of all planned thru hikes end in success. The mental challenges are usually more difficult than the physical ones.
Pilgrims are very lucky in one regard. While a backpacker has to carry his or her 35 pound pack the whole distance, a pilgrimage is about shedding the baggage we have accumulated by being centered on material or other things of lesser importance than the Christian ideals we are trying to live by. As our pilgrimage progresses our burdens become much lighter and give us a measure of our progress.
My prayers are for the lightness of your steps on our journey forward! Let us rejoice in our progress!
Image Copyright: feverpitched / 123RF Stock Photo