Today travel for leisure, recreation, adventure, knowledge, or business is commonplace. The idea of "pilgrimage" may seem like some long forgotten reason for leaving home.
Going on a pilgrimage was a main reason for travel in ancient times. Going to places where something out of the ordinary happened, or where someone deemed "holy" resided has always drawn seekers. Sometimes when people could not get to the place, or see the holy person, pieces of clothing or bits of bone were brought to them. Thus the tradition of relics was born. In every Roman Catholic Church there are relics of some saint in the center of the altar, and sometimes in sealed glass containers for people to see.
I heard Fr. Thomas Keating suggest that a "pilgrimage" may be a good reason to travel for budding contemplatives. I feel very fortunate to have incorporated spiritual growth in my travels. Going to the Holy Land with Contemplative Outreach was made exceptional because I was able to sit in Centering Prayer along with fellow pilgrims at ancient holy sites. The sense of soaking in the sacred energy of those who have gone before was palpable.
Sacred places are not limited to the Holy Land. Many have found a reconnection with the sacred in Celtic places like Scotland, Ireland, or England. Travel may broaden not only one's knowledge, but also one's tolerance of those who touch the sacred in different ways. During a one week Elderhostel in New Mexico, I had the opportunity to visit eleven "holy" sites. Each one was from a different religious perspective: Native American, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Sheik, Penetentes, Buddhist, and Hindu. It was a wonderful opportunity to hear about their spiritual practices, and to tour their sacred spaces. I came away with a new respect, understanding, and sense of kinship for the way other traditions seek to touch the sacred.
Tour companies are beginning to market "pilgrimage" travel. While far off journeys may be enticing, a great number of possibilities are close to home. Nature, music, art, and culture surround us. Visiting a new place of worship, or a park, or a cemetery to just sit in silence and absorb the energy may of itself be a small pilgrimage. Recognizing the sacred in the world around can deepen an appreciation of the divine that dwells not only "out there", but also deep within each person. How, when, where have you experienced the presence of the sacred?
Carol Weber is a Commissioned Presenter of Centering Prayer.