Pilgrimage. The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides these two definitions of pilgrimage:
• a journey to a holy place
• a journey to a special or unusual place
The heart of pilgrimage is a journey. Typically, the journey of a pilgrim is a physical one. In United States history we think of the Pilgrims who left England to form a utopian colony in Cape Cod. But the journey of the pilgrim is much older. It finds roots in ancient cultures where travelers made journeys to holy places, erected altars, and memorialized their encounters with the Divine. Pilgrimages are spiritual journeys in which the physical trip serves to enable a person to move toward a personal encounter that is in some way sacred, that is “set apart” from other life experiences.
Among my favorite classic pieces of spiritual writing in the Christian tradition is the book, The Way of the Pilgrim. The book traces the journey of a Russian pilgrim who is on a physical and spiritual journey to grow more fully in his experience of God. Along this journey, he prays the Jesus Prayer. The Jesus Prayer is an essential element of what’s called Hesychastic spirituality, the spirituality of the third and fourth century mystics who lived in the Sinai desert. Hesychastic spirituality is a movement toward letting go of everything that prevents the Divine within us from being fully manifest. The pilgrim in the classic book does this by letting go of the security of home and relationships and roaming the country side on his journey to encounter something special and sacred within himself.
Spiritual pilgrims have always been misunderstood. They are looked at as oddities in each of their cultures. Yet, they have been found in both Eastern and Western religions. The journeys to holy places are also journeys inward to encounter a deeper truth within oneself. Pilgrims are often viewed as drop-outs and misfits, as people who don’t contribute to society, who are somehow self-indulgent. Many of us roll our eyes when someone describes another as “trying to find” him or herself. Yet, throughout the history of religion around the world, there have been pilgrims who remind us that our lives are a journey.
Have you taken time to consider your life’s journey? As a pilgrim who is passing through this world, where are you going? What is it that you hope to encounter? Is there a holy place, a special place, an unusual place that reveals something of your inner self?
One of my good friends recently shared a brief video made by one of his friends, Kevin Miles. Kevin is a musician from Stuttgart, Germany. Two years ago, he quit his job, moved out of his apartment and into his van, and began a pilgrimage. He travels place to place looking for something meaning, purposeful, and in my mind, spiritual to inspire and animate his life. At first glance, one could easily dismiss his journey as merely dropping out. Yet, it’s clear that his pilgrimage is with purpose – the purpose of finding a renewed sense of self and meaning and the purpose to inspire creativity. Kevin’s is the journey that spiritual pilgrims have made throughout the generations. Kevin’s journey is much the same as our own. As pilgrims, we are each on the way to discover, encounter, or create something that’s meaningful, purposeful, or valuable in life.
Kevin probably never heard of Hesychastic spirituality. Yet, much like the hesychast, he has let go of the things that prevent him from exploring his inner self more deeply in search of that which is true for him. His wandering search for meaning and purpose is the journey of the pilgrim, the journey of one who departs in order to arrive.
In this context, I want to share with you Kevin’s brief video of his pilgrimage: Depart to Arrive.
© 2015, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.