This week we explore the contemplative tradition of pilgrimage. In 1983, Father Richard Rohr went on a teaching pilgrimage to the sacred sites of Lourdes, Assisi, Rome, and several locations in the Holy Land. Richard’s first talk took place in the great Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Lourdes, France. This basilica stands above the Grotto of Massabielle, the place where Mary is said to have appeared in 1858 to a teenaged girl named Bernadette Soubirous (who was named a saint in 1933). Here is how Richard introduced the topic:
Through the centuries, pilgrimage of some type is found in many religions. Pilgrimage took the form of the Jewish exodus, Islam’s Hajj to Mecca, vision quests, walkabouts, and classic heroic journeys about leaving home. In the fourth century, many Christians began to travel to Jerusalem. Each century took on a new form; the interesting thing is the spirituality that went behind it. It was an exercise in letting go, a search for wonder, a constant discovery of the new. It kept older religions from becoming staid and expecting God only in the familiar and customary. Pilgrimage accustomed people to change and growth.
So, major Christian pilgrimages would go to Jerusalem (later travelers would visit saints’ shrine or relics) and oftentimes they’d go for a whole year or more. They traveled at great expense and with great difficulty, and their goal would be to reach the River Jordan. Then, at the River Jordan, they would dive in the water and swim across. This was of course a way of re-experiencing the baptism that Jesus experienced.
To help us to understand pilgrimage in its ideal sense, it has to do with the sanctification of both time and place. Let me give you a mantra that the New Jerusalem people [Father Richard’s spiritual community before he founded the Center for Action and Contemplation] have come to know. The mantra is “This moment or this place is as perfect as it can be.” Our temptation is to always look to the next moment to be more perfect, the next place, and then the next moment or place.
You see, we are always disappointed in what we actually have. We are always rushing into the future. The reason we’re rushing into the future is because we’re not experiencing a wholeness in the present. And when we haven’t grasped the present, we always live under an illusion. It is an illusion that the next moment or place is going to be better. When I get around this corner, when I see this church, when I get to Jerusalem, when I get to the hotel—whatever it might be. But pilgrimage helps us see that attitude is essentially wrong. As long as we think happiness is around the corner, it means that we have not grasped happiness yet. Because happiness is given in this moment and this place, and this moment and place are as perfect as they can be.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, On Pilgrimage: Lourdes, Holy Land, Assisi, Rome (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2014), CD. No longer available for purchase.
Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 2, used with permission. Les Argonauts, Camino de Santiago, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper, Winter Bird. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.
On pilgrimage, people are changed through the simple act of walking.
Story from Our Community:
At my 65th birthday party, I asked dear friends to help me dream up the next chapter of my life. Global service? Spanish immersion? A month later, my daughter announced that she was pregnant. My daughter lives with cognitive and emotional challenges, and I knew that she and the baby would need help. Then, her baby was diagnosed with autism. I realized that God’s call was not to some global adventure, but to the sacred, sometimes painful and always humbling, walk of helping my daughter and her son to live their best lives. —Lynn P.