I remember sitting on the tarmac in Philadelphia awaiting our Atlantic departure to Glasgow in 2009 with a group of women from Seattle. We were on pilgrimage to Iona, so why should I have not been surprised that we were grounded for FOUR hours while the winds and rains of a Hurricane Bill whipped and roared around us, lightning lighting up the jet-black night outside our plane? What really brought the rigor close to heart was upon collecting our backpacks in Glasgow; is was evidently clear that our luggage was unable to be loaded on our flight during the storm, and also due to the extreme conditions, abandoned, not even covered against the torrential rains. My pack containing all my teaching materials for Iona was completely SOAKED, much of it rendered useless. All I could do was laugh knowing that I would cry my eyes out if I didn't. For indeed, what I was bearing witness to was the evidence of the pilgrimage stages being set in motion, this commotion being a clear marker that we were approaching the sacred!
The inevitable chaos that surrounds one’s journey to the place of their heart’s longing is set in place to distract and possibly even derail the most hope-filled plans. When one leaves on a pilgrimage, they are making an absolute commitment to a sojourn towards self-knowledge, which in Christian mystical tradition, is the understanding that knowledge of self and knowledge of God are one. And there are energies at play within and around us that are desperate to ensure that divine connection doesn't occur. This happens in the guise of uncertainties and doubts, details unwinding, or appearances that even the weather is commiserating against you!
The purpose of the pilgrimage is to ultimately make life more meaningful. It is regarded as the universal quest for the self.
Though the form of the path changes, one element remains the same: renewal of the soul. The essence of the sacred way is "tracing a sacred route of tests and trials, ordeals and obstacles, to arrive at a holy place and attempt to fathom the secrets of its power" (P.Cousineau). I absolutely believe that one might need to journey to a holy place on the other side of the planet to recover this renewal. And, sacred sites are also all around us, quietly remaining in the more wild edges of our frenetic lives, awaiting being noticed, remembered, attended. The pilgrimage process is one that can be engaged just as much at home as abroad and with just as much potential for transformation. It is the profound act of listening, which transforms the average elements of a place or even just your normal mid-week day, into a pilgrim's portal: a way of sensing and seeing that transmits the sacred to and through the greater community of things that surround us!
The way of the pilgrim is one of an inner-quiet, an inner ear attuned to the subtle sounds of the Spirit while on the sacred road.