Friday, October 16, 2009

Howdy Pilgrim

Pilgrimage: Exploring a Great Spiritual Practice
by Edward C. Selzer

This was recommended at the orientation retreat that we had a couple of weeks ago for my upcoming pilgrimage to Israel that I have told some of you about. The retreat was great - the 20 participants had a chance to get acquainted, and we also got to know our two leaders a little bit. There was some planning for the trip and some travel tips - what to take, how much luggage is acceptable, etc. Thankfully, though, a major portion of the time was spent looking at pilgrimage as a spiritual practice and discussing how we can make the experience more meaningful.

The orientation made me more excited than ever about the trip, and as soon as I got home I dived into this (free!) new book. Pilgrimage is not great literature, and it is not the definitive writing on the topic, but it is a good way to become familiar with pilgrimage as a discipline and as a mindset. The book's bibliography also suggests numerous other resources for those seeking spiritual growth in a journey to the unknown place.

Pilgrimage looks at the history and practice of sacred travel in all of the major faith traditions. That was fascinating - I knew that it was important in the heritage of the three monotheistic faiths, but loved learning how pilgrimage takes such a major place in the spiritual lives of Buddhists and Hindus as well (plus many others). The book is more than a travel guide - it made me want to expand my horizons even beyond Israel. I'm already thinking of how I can someday get to some of the other renowned pilgrimage sites.

Pilgrimage is also a great resource for movies and novels that have a pilgrimage theme. The closing two chapters are basically annotated lists one is a list of 40 famous pilgrims, where they went and why their experience was important. The other lists 40 major pilgrimage sites - why they are important, who tends to go there, and what one can expect upon arrival. I found myself just wanting to start at the top of the list and work my way down, backpack over my shoulder.

I feel blessed by the Israel pilgrimage already, namely because I am gaining a sense of travel as a spiritual experience that can transcend ordinary life, rather than as a vacation, an educational opportunity, or a mission trip. Those are all good things, but travel for pilgrimage is different. I am so excited to experience it! Stay tuned...

Reverent Reader


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