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020 How to Prepare for a Pilgrimage

As previously announced, on Sunday September 15, 2013 my friend DJ and I will be undertaking a 100 mile pilgrimage from Holy Island Lindisfarne to Durham Cathedral, where the 1300 year-old Lindisfarne Gospels are currently on display. We’re hoping you’ll join us as a #digipilgrim for those 8 days as we tweet, photograph and video blog the journey.

At its best, a pilgrimage is a meaningful journey with a sacred purpose. Have you ever wanted to do one? Here’s why you should! Here are 4 tips we’ve learned while preparing for our own sacred trek, thanks to Rick Lewis who first suggested these ideas to us. (Main image credit: Sofia Sforza)

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1. Prepare Your Itinerary

Choose your destination. Whether it’s the famous Camino in Spain, a visit to the Holy Land, or a place of spiritual significance in your own region, there are no end of places to visit on pilgrimage. The idea of a Lindisfarne-Durham walk was first suggested to me by Pete Phillips, director of CODEC, who had been working on developing such a trek as a modern day pilgrimage route. Once he’d mentioned it, the idea wouldn’t leave me.

Plan your route. Once the destination was decided, DJ and I worked with an initial itinerary prepared by Pete and his assistant Emily, and altered it for our time constraints (we were both available for a maximum of 8 days), a stretching but achievable daily walking distance (we settled on 14 miles a day), and what looked like natural, significant and/or scenic stopping points along the way. Research your geographical route, use ordinance maps and Google Maps to outline it.

Book your transport. We used thetrainline.com to book our train tickets to Lindisfarne, our starting point, as early as we could to secure the cheapest fares. A taxi trip from the nearest station is also required to reach Lindisfarne Island itself, taking into account the island’s twice-daily low-tide access times. Your journey will have it’s own unique travel requirements.

Book your accommodation. Yes, you can rough it by camping along your pilgrimage route. But in this case we’re talking about the north of England, so we’ve opted for four walls and warmth! You can seek out accommodation along the way too, but being unfamiliar with the region we’ve decided knowing we have a place to stay at the end of each day is a bonus.

2. Prepare Your BodyMan Hiking with Backpack

Start a walking plan ahead of time. Another friend of mine recently completed the 300 mile Camino pilgrimage route in Spain. He began walking 3 miles a day a year in advance of his pilgrimage to physically prepare. ‘But it wasn’t enough,’ he told me. DJ and I are both relatively fit, and won’t be walking as far, but we may be caught out here too as this pilgrimage was confirmed a little late. We’ve been walking on average 4-10 miles every couple of days for the past few weeks, increasing that to daily in this remaining fortnight.

Prepare your feet. Get good, rigid, ankle-supporting walking or hiking boots and break them in early (blisters are a part of pilgrimage, and putting your feet into new un-stretched shoes won’t help). Some people prepare the soles of their feet with surgical spirit to help toughen them also.

3. Prepare Your Pack

Clothes. Start with a good, lightweight, waterproof rucksack, and take only essential clothing with you: underwear, socks (double-layered woollen have been recommended, or 1000-mile socks or similar), a spare pair of shorts or walking slacks, two spare shirts, a jumper, a rain coat, a hat.

Essentials. You’ll need a small first aid kit, and ordinance maps for your journey (printed are best as mobile coverage varies for phone apps). Take zinc-oxide tape for taping blister-prone parts of your feet, Compede-type blister plasters, ibuprofen or other pain killers, and sunscreen.

Technology. As DJ and I are running this as an online pilgrimage, I should mention the technology we’re taking. We’ll be keeping things basic: we both have the iPad 2 loaded with the iMovie app to record and edit our daily video blogs (uploaded via the pre-confirmed wifi at each night’s accommodation). I have a basic Android smartphone, and DJ an iPhone 5, which we’ll use to tweet and share photos. We’re taking a DSLR camera each too, with iPad Camera Connection Kits, but will attempt all online content with phones and iPads.

4. Prepare Your Soul

Compass on a wooden table

Clarify our purpose. People go on pilgrimage for a variety of reasons: to mark a significant birthday or milestone, to enjoy exercise in nature, in the Middle Ages pilgrims even walked as penance for their sins. But at its best, a pilgrimage is a walk with God to a special place. How will you get the most out of your pilgrimage spiritually? In addition to having your own goals for your trip, what goals might God have for it?

Pray your preparation. DJ and I have both found our preparation walks to be valuable in themselves, giving an opportunity to pray, in solitude, out in God’s world. This can be a great time to seek Him for what the focus of your pilgrimage should be. Is there some aspect of your life God wants to address? Some question on your heart you want an answer to? The needs of others you’re wanting to lift to Him along the way? You could consider a one-day prayer retreat before your journey to seek God’s agenda for your pilgrimage.

Consider a daily focus. A pilgrimage can be a great way to explore a new spiritual practice or some new (or forgotten) aspect of your relationship with God. Using our 8-day trek as an example, here are some ideas for making each day count:

  • Explore a classic spiritual discipline like prayer, fasting (partial, if energy is a concern), silence, confession etc
  • Meditate on a Psalm each day
  • Read through a book of the Bible (the Gospel of Mark is easily covered in 8 days)
  • Focus on a different fruit of the Spirit, or gift of the Spirit
  • Reflect on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, or the Lord’s Prayer
  • Contemplate Jesus’ final 8 days on earth
  • Reflect on Jesus’ personal mission statement and let it shape your own
  • Take a photograph representing 8 qualities of God you need to remember right now

How can you best prepare for a pilgrimage? Prepare your itinerary, your body, your pack and your soul. Do let me know how you’re preparing to do your own pilgrimage, either physically or online.

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  • September 11, 2013

    After reading “how to prepare” for a pilgrimage, a couple of thoughts come to mind.
    1) first things first, what a beautiful image on this post!
    2) I love the way that God rewards a heart that seeks, and so when we prepare well for something, he will really respond to that , he does not disappoint us!
    3) Yet at the same time, God also blesses the unprepared. I am reminded of a dear friend who experienced great trauma in her life, and has found herself on a number of pilgrimages / retreats at times of late, at times either by accident, other times just not according to plan!

    One experience she had was booking a flight to America, for what she thought was a required visit to collect some highly sensitive paperwork… This was a big outlay, she lives in Australia! In the end it turned out it was unecesary to fly there! But she went anyway, just trusting in God to do something useful with it.
    She had a serious of profound insights, chance meetings and messages from God along the way. All unplanned and unexpected.

    Her other experience was a ‘silence’ retreat at a convent, she did not last the silent distance and had to leave sooner than the planned finished date 🙂 and yet God spoke to her in again profound ways, she randomly picked up a book in the convent library and it spoke a message to her so specifically and poetically related to her experience that it was humorous!

    So those are my thoughts, just to say that I love how God works in both planned, and unplanned ways.

    I am learning to not put boundaries around my expectation of God’s ways … I used to go to a church where everything was very planned… and the Holy Spirit guided our plans and moved through our planned events mightily. Now I go to a church where things are a lot freer and less structured. and the Spirit works through this, mightily, too.

    On your pilgrimage I imagine God will meet you both in your itinerary, and outside of it too!

    Happy walking Sheridan and DJ!!!

    • September 11, 2013

      I love these stories, Clare! Very true. When it comes to making a pilgrimage there are some things you need to prepare for, just for safety reasons (perhaps not so much an issue in your friend’s case as it doesn’t sound like she was walking between destinations). But once you’re on the trail (whatever the trail is) we can expect God may surprise us in all sorts of ways.


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