This year, I am thankful to relive the very special experience of hiking to the summit of Mount LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I had the privilege of hiking to the top of the mountain once before and I eagerly await the chance to make that journey again. The summit of the mountain is a truly beautiful place, and the journey itself was both invigorating and reflective.
In the years since my first ascent, I have become acquainted with an old spiritual practice that is beginning to see a resurgence. That practice is taking pilgrimage. You may be skeptical about attempting a practice that most of us associate with the medieval period and with pilgrims walking to Canterbury Cathedral in England. In fact, there are several reasons why you should consider adopting this old, but never outdated practice for your own life. I will examine just two of them here: movement and location.
You often hear the phrase about the journey itself being important and less so the destination. In the case of making a pilgrimage, I would certainly agree that the journey is at least as important as where you end. Pilgrimage is a form of moving prayer. You can set your feet to the path and simply lose yourself in the act of walking and thoughtful contemplation and communion with God. While we often think of the state of stillness as being more spiritual or enlightened, movement can be just as enriching to our spirits. In fact, many individuals who are kinesthetic learners find that they are better able to bring themselves to a spiritual place when they can move rather than sit quietly.
Of course, where you chose to end your pilgrimage is also important. Choose a location that you feel is holy or where you can best make connection with God. This could be a man-made structure, such as a church, but can also be a natural setting. How do you choose a natural location for your pilgrimage? You may want to make your choice based on your own spiritual needs. If you are able to make it to a peak or a hilltop, you can take the opportunity to pray for clarity and to perhaps get a better picture of challenges you are facing in your life. A river is a great place to pray for patience and learn how to be adaptable toward life’s hurdles. Beaches have long been held as special places and while their landscape and waters can be chaotic and wild, they also show us how God provides for us and offers safety and grounding when the waves of life come our way.
Pilgrimage is a time-honored spiritual practice that can still be of value to us today. The journey itself can provide a unique method of prayer in motion, and our journey’s destination can allow us to feel God’s presence via the landscape. If you feel interested in trying to make a pilgrimage, I cannot encourage it enough. Plan out a journey that is within your individual physical capabilities and that will meet your spiritual needs and give pilgrimage a try. I think you will be glad that you did.
Today’s blog was written by Trey Ward. Trey is a former publishing assistant for Abingdon Press and former English teacher. He is a lover of nature, stories, history, and good tea and coffee.