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An Everyday Pilgrimage

May 12, 2023

On Ash Wednesday our group gathered in a circle in the busy Dulles Airport terminal to pray and receive the imposition of ashes.  Other people in the airport looked on as I smudged each person’s forehead with black ash and said, “From dust you have come, to dust you shall return.”  It was important for us as we began our journey to mark its spiritual component. Our desire was to be pilgrims on this trip, not tourists.

A pilgrimage and sightseeing are two different types of journeys or travels with distinct purposes and meanings. “A pilgrimage is a journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about their self, others, nature, or a higher good through the experience. It can lead to a personal transformation…” (Wikipedia) Sightseeing, on the other hand, is a form of tourism that involves visiting places of interest or attractions for the purpose of leisure, enjoyment, or exploration. The focus of sightseeing is often on the cultural, historical, natural, or artistic significance of the destination, rather than any specific religious or spiritual aspect.

The purpose of Christian pilgrimage was summarized by Pope Benedict XVI in this way:

“To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history. To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendor and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe. Above all, Christians go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to the places associated with the Lord's passion, death and resurrection.”

Wedding Church Cana

We saw each step of our pilgrimage as walking in the steps of Jesus.  At each place we visited we paused to read scripture that pertained to that location.  We read Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ at Caesarea Phillipi. (Matt. 16:13-20) Another memorable time was walking the Via Dolorosa (the way of sorrows). This narrow street, lined with traders, spice vendors and shops, is thought to be the way Jesus carried the cross to Calvary.  Our guide would find an alcove or spot where we could huddle on this very crowded street, to pause and read the scriptures that described the 14 stations of cross where Jesus suffered.

We also concluded each evening with a time of prayer, singing and devotions. Each night I asked our pilgrims, “Where did you see God today?”  For us this truly was a pilgrimage, yes we saw many sights, but we came home with a meaningful faith experience that will continue to shape our lives.

You don’t have to go to the Holy Land to be a pilgrim. You can live your whole life as a pilgrim, walking in a way that honors the holy we have all around us.

Here is a great description of an “every day pilgrimage:”

“An everyday pilgrimage is a metaphorical journey or a practice of intentional reflection, exploration, and growth that one incorporates into their daily life. Unlike a traditional pilgrimage, which typically involves traveling to a specific destination for religious or spiritual reasons, an everyday pilgrimage is often an internal and personal journey that can take place within the context of one's everyday routine and surroundings. It's a way to cultivate mindfulness, meaning, and purpose in the ordinary moments of life.

An everyday pilgrimage can take many different forms, depending on an individual's beliefs, values, and intentions. It may involve daily practices such as meditation, prayer, journaling, mindful walking, or other forms of contemplative activities. It can also involve engaging in acts of kindness, gratitude, or self-reflection throughout the day. The key is that it's a deliberate and intentional practice that encourages self-awareness, reflection, and growth in the midst of one's everyday activities.

An everyday pilgrimage can help individuals develop a deeper connection with themselves, others, and the world around them. It can provide opportunities for self-discovery, self-care, and personal transformation. It can also serve as a reminder to slow down, be present, and find beauty and meaning in the ordinary moments of life. Ultimately, an everyday pilgrimage is a personal journey of exploration and growth, and it can be adapted to suit an individual's unique beliefs, interests, and circumstances.”
(ChatGPT, personal communication, 4/20/23)

I hope you can learn to take everyday pilgrimages because God is all around you and you are walking on holy ground.  And my wish is that someday you may also make the meaningful pilgrimage to the Holy Land and experience the sacred places of our faith.

Rev. John Morgan

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