Pilgrimage. What is it about this word that causes one’s emotions to stand on guard-both compelled and curiously cautious at the same time? Indeed, it is a loaded word, packed with ages of political and parochial themes. Even with the historical entrapping of this concept, there is a much more ancient restlessness that is deep within our collective consciousness to be on the move and to engage questions and the Answer in the rites of passage process. Movement and travel is fundamental to the human experience. A general arc from hunter/gatherer societies to today’s human populations underscores that there is an inherent desire to move. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Hebrew God is often portrayed as a traveler showing up to deliver divine guidance. The journey upon which the traveler embarks subsequently becomes sacred as well. This holy hegira underlays the constant travels and wanderings of many ancient Celtic Christians. Restlessness was in their blood as was the notion that it was better to travel hopefully than to arrive. This lens of hope presented a perspective that the road was a rite; that the path provided prescient knowledge and insight to their journey towards divine revelation.
This is the stuff of rites and rituals. This is about growing to the edge of life as we know it and discovering that there is a world beyond that wild hedgerow that is drawing us into its feathers, fronds, and fur. Getting up and moving to the parameters of our life, to the absolute edges, is where we re-engage our senses and re-awaken our souls to our sacred meant-for-ness.
I believe that what agitates people when they first engage the concept of pilgrimage is that it literally unsettles them. The domesticity that ties us down to the perceptions of our lives begins to untie and unravel as this seeker-path begins its work of instigating a longing and a calling to go beyond, to move through, to expand and re-discover the divine in this asperous, ancient process that involves an epic, wild exchange with the natural world. When you first hear of pilgrimage, whether it is the perspective or a place, it is as if something gets lodged within the soul like an irksome stone or that sense of evasive knowing of a lost thing that you just can’t quite remember…that sense stays with a now restless-you, and will call to you your entire life until The Longing and The Call has been courageously met and engaged with a knapsack in hand and boots on the feet, knowing that the road is a rite, the thing that will bring us to an authentic center and sense of the sacred.