This year at least 140 million people (some estimate as many as 300 million) will go on a pilgrimage. This figure has been rising every year for the past decade and, interestingly, not all of these pilgrims are religious. Everyday secular people are feeling the call to make a ‘meaningful journey to a sacred place’, whether that’s walking part of the Appalachian Trail or doing the mammoth Camino trek in Spain. In this post and video we’ll look at why, plus how to do a mini pilgrimage of your own.
Why You Should Go on a Pilgrimage
The growing trend of pilgrimage makes sense to me. Today many of us spend our lives sitting at a desk, in front of a screen, having the world mediated to us through flickering pixels. A pilgrimage gets us out of our air conditioned boxes and into the elements—boots crunching on the ground, sun, rain or wind beating upon our skin. Pilgrimage also takes us away from everyday life to explore new paths, meet new people and maybe see things in a new way.
Many who go on pilgrimage go for two main reasons:
- To leave something behind (a loss, a broken relationship, an old way of life) or
- To find something new (a new vision or purpose for life)
And don’t we all have moments when we need to do both?
In The Making of Us I tell the story of my friend DJ and I going on a 116-mile pilgrimage from Holy Island Lindisfarne in England’s north to Durham Cathedral. It was a good time for me to do it. I was searching for a new sense of identity and purpose, and through the conversations DJ and I had, plus reflection on them afterwards, I made some important discoveries about what matters in life.
How to Do a Mini Pilgrimage
Photo by Aneta Ivanova (Creative Commons)
I hope you’ll consider doing a pilgrimage one day. You don’t have to do the entire Appalachian Trail or Camino, or even a moderate trek like we did. You can start small. Here are four steps to planning one.
1. Choose a Destination
I live in Oxford, the long-time home of one of my favourite authors, CS Lewis. In one of my practice walks before our Lindisfarne-Durham pilgrimage, I visited Lewis’s grave—just 5 miles from my home and easily done in an afternoon. What is a meaningful destination for you? If it’s not near your home, stop 5-8 miles out and do the walk from there.
2. Walk at a Relaxed Pace
Your aim isn’t to reach the destination as such, but to be open to all that God has for you along the path. Wear sturdy, ankle-supporting hiking boots, take lots of water, pack a light raincoat or jumper if the forecast suggests it, and then simply enjoy the walk. Feel each step on the path. Feel the sun and breeze on your skin. Look. Listen.
3. Walk Prayerfully
I don’t listen to any podcasts on these kinds of walks. I want to be present to the moment and listening for the voice of God. It can help to start your mini pilgrimage by reading a Psalm or another piece of scripture to get your heart in a God-focused place. While walking to CS Lewis’s grave my simple prayer was Lord, speak. I then tied to notice what came to mind as I walked.
4. Make Time for Reflection
It’s good to stop along your journey to rest and reflect. Since my walk to Lewis’s grave was short, I made the destination itself my main stopping point. Once I found the grave site I sat on a nearby seat, pulled out my journal, and reflected prayerfully on all I was experiencing. After a while I noticed something:
Who were all these others I’d stepped past so quickly to get to the ‘celebrity’?
How might they have impacted the world in their own small way?
This led to an important discovery on the value of all people and the importance of every person’s contribution, no matter how small or unknown, which you’ll read about in chapter 10 of The Making of Us.
Talk to Me
So, pick a place that’s important to you, set out at a relaxed pace, and make time for prayer, rest and reflection. What have you discovered by doing a pilgrimage? If you haven’t been on one, where would you go if you could? Tell me in the comments below.
Want to delve deeper into pilgrimage? In the podcast above, recorded in 2013 just ahead of the Lindisfarne-Durham trek that became the basis of The Making of Us, DJ and I discuss how to prepare your body, itinerary, pack and soul for a longer pilgrimage.
Watch the Videos
This video is one of a 6-part series based on my new book The Making of Us.
Get the book