JOURNEYS – pilgrimage

‘Every tourist should become a pilgrim’ (Rupert Sheldrake)

Habits of Mind: Responding with wonderment and awe

Journeys in the form of pilgrimage are a feature of most world religions. In Islam, pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the five pillars of Islam, a religious duty which Muslims will seek to fulfil once in a lifetime. Then for Roman Catholic Christians, a visit to Lourdes is often treasured, visiting the place where Bernadette Soubirous experienced an apparition of ‘Our lady’. I make mention of these two pilgrimages because members of our Wychwood community recently have taken part in them. Pilgrimages are physical journeys but also the outward expression of internal journeys of faith, aiming for a deeper connection with God and a time to reorientate the spiritual and moral compasses of our lives.

Interestingly pilgrimage is gaining a revival as a spiritual practice, and not just for those who are members of a traditional religion. Rupert Sheldrake in his book ‘Science and Spiritual Practices’, presents scientific evidence supporting pilgrimage and other spiritual practices (meditation/prayer, rituals , connecting with nature) as contributary to healthier and happier living.

Quite recently, old pilgrim routes and new pathways have been opened across Britain by the British Pilgrimage Trust, connecting sacred places for religious and secular people alike, who wish to connect to something deeper and to respond with wonderment and awe to their environment.

And last year alone more than half a million people walked the Camino de Santiago, the Way of Saint James across northern Spain. In addition, the BBC programme ‘Pilgrimage’ filmed groups of well-known people with a diversity of faiths and beliefs walking together along some of the long distant routes, tracking their spiritual as well as their physical journeys.

‘Every tourist should become a pilgrim’ writes Rupert Sheldrake. I think what Sheldrake is saying here is that a tourist travels the world in search of new experiences that provide superficial pleasure or delight, a material quest, if you will, that looks outward rather than probing inward. 

‘A pilgrim, on the other hand, travels over unknown territory with an open mind and spirit willing to face any physical obstacle that arises, stepping out of the daily routine to deepen one’s awareness of a divine presence and the journey within. Pilgrimages are as old and varied as the world’s many religions, personal journeys that mean different things to every pilgrim.’ (Jim Dodson)

Fortunately, we don’t have to journey far to experience the benefits of pilgrimage, it’s more about the intention with which we travel. In fact, it can start from our very front doors as I discovered during lockdown. Here is what I wrote in a blog from that time:

‘….walking has always provided me with thinking time and also no-thinking time, when the rhythm of walking itself can lead to a certain ‘in the moment’ mindfulness. During lockdown when personal freedom was so reduced, walking offered the opportunity to travel and move through ‘the months and the days’ with time to reflect.

‘Of course, some of us may travel geographically further than others in our lifetimes but what we gain from any travelling will depend on the mindset with which we travel. All journeying can help us on our personal journey if we are open to new experience and learning from it. Whether far or near, there is much to explore!’


Christine Crossley