What is a Pilgrimage?
For as long as humans have walked, they have walked to get closer to their gods.
The Greeks made these quests, as did the Israelites, the Mayans, and the Chinese. Jesus hailed these journeys, along with the Buddha and the Prophet Mohammad. These wanderings have been around forever. Pilgrims made them in the eons before writing was invented. Believers made them in the millennia during which the great civilizations were built. Seekers follow them today.
Six stages characterize every pilgrimage:
- The Call: The opening clarion of any spiritual journey. Often in the form of a feeling or some vague yearning, that summons expresses a fundamental human desire: finding meaning in an overscheduled world somehow requires leaving behind our daily obligations. Sameness is the enemy of spirituality.
- The Separation: Pilgrimage, by its very nature, undoes certainty. It rejects the safe and familiar. It asserts that one is freer when one frees oneself from daily obligations of family, work, and community, but also the obligations of science, reason, and technology.
- The Journey: The backbone of a sacred journey is the pain of the journey itself. In India, pilgrims approach the holy sites barefoot. In Iraq, they flagellate themselves. In Tibet, the more difficult the trip the most merit the pilgrim acquires. In almost every place, the travelers develop blisters, hunger, and diarrhea. This personal sacrifice enhances the experience; it also elevates the sense of community one develops along the way.
- The Contemplation: Some pilgrimages go the direct route, right to the center of the holy of holies, directly to the heart of the matter. Others take a more indirect route, circling around the outside of the sacred place, transforming the physical journey into a spiritual path of contemplation.
- The Encounter: After all the toil and trouble, after all the sunburn and swelling, after all the anticipation and expectation comes the approach, the sighting. The encounter is the climax of the journey, the moment when the traveler attempts to slide through a thin membrane in the universe and return to the Garden of Origin, where humans lived in concert with the Creator.
- The Completion and Return: At the culmination of the journey, the pilgrim returns home only to discover that meaning they sought lies in the familiar of one's own world.
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