Interested in a spiritual journey? Here are ten reasons to go on a pilgrimage:
10. You’re young and want an adventure.
9. You’re old and want to reflect on your life.
8. You’ve had a divorce, finished chemotherapy, or are grieving a loss.
7. You want to draw closer to God.
6. You’re pretty sure there is no God, but there’s a tiny sliver of doubt.
5. You think a pilgrimage sounds better than therapy.
4. You want to make new friends.
3. You want to be alone.
2. You’ve got itchy feet.
1. You’re human.
In short: there are many reasons to go on a pilgrimage.
You’ve probably already been on a pilgrimage once or twice in your life—perhaps when you visited the town where you grew up and you walked its streets with a full heart, seeing everything through the lens of memory. Or when you took a trip with a friend facing something big and scary, like a serious cancer diagnosis, and along with the fun was the knowledge of a powerful undertow just beneath the surface, making every stop for ice cream and view of a sunset bittersweet.
Such trips are pilgrimages because they touch the heart and soul. There’s nothing wrong with an ordinary vacation, for sometimes what we most need to do is chill out on a beach with a mystery novel and a gin and tonic. But there are other times—which tend to come after losses and at transition points like graduations, decade birthdays, and retirements—when the road calls to us in a different way. Even if we think we’re not religious, even if we’re skeptical of any kind of spirituality, there seems to be something in our DNA that draws us to wayfaring. I suspect it’s part of what first drew our ancestors out of the trees on the savannas of Africa and eventually to every corner of the earth.
The sacred enters our lives through the tiniest of openings. Your call to pilgrimage may come disguised as a door that’s shut in your face: the job ends, the lover leaves, the friendship dissolves into bitterness. Or the call may come through the comment of a stranger at a bus stop or in a headline you happen to read at a checkout counter. You tell yourself you’re foolish for listening to that inner urging, and yet you pack your bags and set out.
What places beckon to you? What dream do you want to fulfill? What task does your soul seem to have in store for you? Listen deeply to the small whisper inside of you, the one that will guide you where you need to go.
Those on pilgrimage enter a liminal state, their identities becoming fluid amid myriad possibilities. That threshold between worlds is sacred ground. Read and reflect before you set out on your trip, preparing your mind and soul for the journey ahead. While you’re traveling, intertwine your steps with prayer. Be mindful of each moment. Practice the discipline of gratitude. Look for the grace that can shine through in even the most seemingly mundane of circumstances.
When you return, your re-entry may not be easy. The journey may have changed you in ways that those at home will find hard to understand. Nevertheless, pilgrims are meant to share their new-found wisdom and insights with others. And perhaps more than anything, they are meant to realize that our entire life is meant to be a pilgrimage, a seeking after the divine in moments both ordinary and extraordinary.
My book Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God is a memoir told through trips to a dozen holy sites around the world.
Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of The Soul of the Family Tree, Near the Exit and Holy Rover. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.