What Does It Mean?
A Good Start
If pilgrimage is going to be more than a quaint religious holdover from the past, it has to have a meaning and relevance for us today. What might that be in our increasingly skeptical and cynical culture?
Naturally, asking this question opens an inquiry that is way too big to unpack in a blog entry; however, one idea does strike me as a good place to begin, maybe.
As is customary along the Camino, sitting with fellow travelers at an albergue one afternoon in 2015, we started comparing what our walk meant to each of us and what our experiences had been up to that point. It surprised me how similar our stories were, even among those who were not ostensively religious.
One pilgrim, as it turned out a priest traveling incognito, observed this. “We are all peregrinos [pilgrims],” he said. “We all share that, in that we are all seekers…seeking what’s significant, seeking what’s important, seeking what really matters.”
That’s a good start…”
Rather than some exception to our lives, something extraordinary and detached from our day to day existence, pilgrimage, he proposed, is an essential part of who we are as humans. To be human is to be a pilgrim already.”
But Isn’t There More?
Okay, fair enough.
But why then go to Spain, to Rome, to Jerusalem, or for that matter to Mecca or Kumano Kodo? We’re all seekers. No matter where or who we are, we can’t help but be always on pilgrimage in some sense of the word.
Our priestly friend offered this clarification, “Pilgrimage,” he sad, “is a metaphor for life.” A metaphor for life. It took me a moment to realize that Father Thomas was saying something different here.
I think he was suggesting that certain destinations, like Santiago de Compostela, and particular routes, like the Camino Frances, could take on special meaning. They could capture and proscribe the essence of our seeking, boil it down in such a way that we could experience symbolically our individual and communal sojourn in this world.
Having walked the Camino Frances a couple of times now, this observation really rings true. In more ways than I can count, pilgrimage is a crucible where the rhythms of life and relationship are highly concentrated and so these rhythms come into sharper relief. One of the most remarkable characteristics of the Camino, for example, is how quickly travelers form close bonds of friendship, share their deepest thoughts and feelings, and care for each other’s needs. Having peeled away much of the extraneous parts of their lives, pilgrims are freed to experience and express their humanity and love for their fellow seekers.