The theme of wandering in the Christian spiritual life is one that is underscored by the centrality of pilgrimage within Hebrew and New Testament scripture narratives. God’s people wandered and in many respects, they seem to have been after a wandering Pilgrim-God.
These Divine-seeking journeys led people away from home-scapes and demanded a wilderness asceticism that placed trust solely in divine provisions while wandering and faith that the promised land (a deep belonging to a place) would ultimately be found.
God appears to prefer to be worshipped on the move rather than tied down to one place, judging by his words to Nathan the prophet when King David expressed his desire to build a permanent temple as his dwelling place, “Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle” (2 Samuel 7:5-6 New International Version). Jesus himself had led a wandering and unsettled existence to which his remark speaks: “the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath nowhere to lay his head” Matthew 8:20
21st Century King James Version). Ironically, this place of promise, which was seen in the Celtic tradition as the goal of peregrinatio, ‘seeking the place of one’s resurrection,’ was only accessible through exodus and exile and in many ways, understood as martyrdom, a death to one’s self and one’s life on this earth. These early concepts of human relationship with God elevated a nomadic and dislocated sense of being. However, despite the rhetoric of exile and exclusion from this world, ironically,
There is evidence that the practice of pilgrimage, especially through a Celtic lens, grounded one deeply in a place.
While Irish monks’ approach to pilgrimage was based on a exilic biblical teaching, and specifically to God’s call to Abraham to leave his home and journey to a strange land, their Celtic constitution demanded that the natural world, and their place within it, mattered. Outdoor spirituality aligned with a wandering way and didn’t relegate things of the spirit to beyond the body. The elements, the land, the water, and the accompanying wildlife all became messengers of God and therefore were critical aspects of worship and understanding of the Divine. Even Colum Cille, or Saint Columba, while self-exiled to the Sacred Isle of Iona, practiced an engagement with the natural world that wasn’t dismissive of place as being simply a plain upon which one travels to find God. Quite the contrary, Columba became located to the particular place of Iona in such a powerful way that the landscape became imbued with legendary stories of sacred encounters and theophanies that spanned decades.
Through the archetypal movements of pilgrimage, one finds deep meaning and spiritual connection through both the exilic wandering and the renunciations associated with the journey; moreover, as a result, one finds themselves deeply connected within the community of creation, and profoundly rooted and at home in their pilgrimage place.