Friday, June 4, 2010

A Vacation for the Soul

Summer is a popular time for vacations. Yet, it can also be a time for pilgrimages. A vacation for the soul is called a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is a sacred journey to a sacred place. It is first and foremost a spiritual journey. Like a vacation, a pilgrimage involves movement and travel, but there are some genuine differences between the two.

So what’s the difference between a pilgrimage to Westminster Abby and, say, a vacation to Disney World? First, a pilgrimage is a concretely physical spiritual practice that involves more than traveling. Most pilgrimages involve walking, hiking and visiting sacred sites along the way. While many vacations also involve physical activity, in a pilgrimage these activities are understood as soul nourishing.

The main difference between a vacation and a pilgrimage is that the journey itself is as important as the destination. This is true even though the purpose of a pilgrimage is to visit a sacred place. When we’re going on a vacation, we want to get to our destination as soon as possible so that the vacation can begin. We get irritated when a plane is late or heavy traffic delays us. On a vacation, the destination is the goal.

A pilgrimage values the journey itself. Christian George, in his book Sacred Travels (InterVarsity Press, 2006) writes:

A pilgrimage benefits the believer in many ways, but above all it gives us a
perspective on God, faith and how we encounter both. I have found that the process
of pilgrimage is more transformative than simply reaching a destination. Each step of the journey involves deeper communion with God, and by the end of it, we discover
that we have encountered him thousands of times along the way.

I'm hoping to do at least one pilgrimage this summer (to Machu Picchu in Peru) and my soul will accompany me.

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