I’m intrigued by pilgrimages, journeys into the unknown that are more than just trips. When you are away from home yet still shopping at malls or peering out a car window with your smartphone camera, you are likely missing something important. Pilgrimages are trips to special or sacred places where you have opportunities to be reflective, or have your character tested, even to the point of being changed by encounters with the unexpected. A pilgrimage is both external and internal. You experience a new destination with the purpose of having your imagination opened, and your mind and heart engaged. What you find may not be what you expect, but even the anomalies – the mishaps, the chance encounters, the wrong turns – can be fodder for a meaningful experience.
Phil Cousineau in The Art of Pilgrimage has a great descriptive way of explaining the elements that come into play as we hope to make our next journey with soulfulness. It may sound corny or elusive at first, but perhaps any trip can become something ‘more’, particularly when we slow down and look more closely at what we are seeing and experiencing.
Clear as mud? Here are a few books at the library that can put you in the right frame of mind to make travel more than just a trip from point A to point B:
The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred by Phil Cousineau
“Geared toward the modern-day pilgrim who is looking for inspiration and a few spiritual tools for the road, The Art of Pilgrimage weaves stories, myths, parables, and quotations from famous travelers of the past with practical suggestions and contemporary accounts of people traveling the sacred way today. A guide for the armchair traveler curious to know what it means to travel with a soulful purpose and travelers ready to embark on a sacred journey.”
Pilgrimage: Adventures of the Spirit by Sean O’Reilly & James O’Reilly
“Pilgrimage comes in many forms: traditional and unconventional, religious and secular, intended and accidental. Yet it always entails mindfulness – a soulful presence that summons meaning to the surface. This book showcases a diverse array of spirit-renewing journeys from pilgrims of many kinds from places as far away as Tibet’s Mount Kailish and as near as sacred New Mexico soil.”
I particularly liked the Camino Trail essay. The writer comes across an odd Spanish senior who seems to warn him about impending disaster (in Spanish). He continues walking, unfazed, only to face a potentially dangerous lightning storm while walking on the Camino Trail by himself. By the end of the day his life seems turned around, or at least his perception has been decidedly altered!
A Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros
“It is only ideas gained by walking that have any worth.” – Nietzsche
“In A Philosophy of Walking, Frédéric Gros charts the many different ways we get from A to B – the pilgrimage, the promenade, the protest march, the nature ramble – and reveals what they say about us.
Gros draws attention to other thinkers who also saw walking as something central to their practice. On his travels he ponders Thoreau’s eager seclusion in Walden Woods; the reason Rimbaud walked in a fury, while Nerval rambled to cure his melancholy. He shows us how Rousseau walked in order to think, while Nietzsche wandered the mountainside to write. In contrast, Kant marched through his hometown every day, exactly at the same hour, to escape the compulsion of thought. Brilliant and erudite, A Philosophy of Walking is an entertaining and insightful manifesto for putting one foot in front of the other.”
Traveling Souls: Contemporary Pilgrimage Stories edited by Brian Bouldrey
“Once upon a less secular time, almost everyone made pilgrimages, and most of the great works of our early literature – Dante’s ascent into the stars, Chaucer’s wanderers to Canterbury, the tales of Orpheus and Odysseus and Hercules – commemorate both inward and outward journeys; these days, I suspect, many of us travel in part to experience pilgrimage by proxy. Most of the travellers in this volume leave home, as I have done, to partake of someone else’s pilgrimage, and so to learn what animates people to undertake such sacrificial tasks; the destination of pilgrimage is pilgrimage itself.”
The Way is Made by Walking: A Pilgrimage Along the Camino de Santiago by Arthur P. Boers
“Pilgrimage is a spiritual discipline not many consider. Aren’t the destinations far? Don’t they involve a lot of time and walking? Just a few years ago, Arthur Paul Boers wasn’t thinking about pilgrimage either. But he began to sense a deep call from God to walk the five-hundred-mile pilgrimage route known as Camino de Santiago, ending in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, at a cathedral that is said to hold the relics of the apostle James. In these pages he opens to us his incredible story of renewed spirituality springing from an old, old path walked by millions before him. It’s a story of learning to pray in new ways, embracing simplicity, forming community, living each day centered and focused, depending on God to provide. Joined by hundreds of others from all over the world, Boers points the way to deeper intimacy with God–a way made by walking in faith.”
“From his high-spirited account of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro on a whim when he was 22 years old to his heart-plucking description of a home-stay in a muddy compound in Cambodia as a 61-year-old, this collection ranges widely. As renowned for his insightful observations as for his poetic prose, George always absorbs the essence of the places he’s visiting. Other stories here include a moving encounter with Australia’s sacred red rock monolith, Uluru; an immersion in country kindness on the Japanese island of Shikoku; the trials and triumphs of ascending Yosemite’s Half Dome with his wife and children; and a magical morning at Machu Picchu.”
My son and I are off for a trip – perhaps it will become a pilgrimage – walking in England this spring. Wish us luck!