“What I have to do is to honor this pilgrimage through life. And so I am this pilgrim who’s constantly amazed by this journey” —Paulo Coehlo
I’ve long loved the idea of a pilgrimage—taking a journey to a faraway place for a spiritual purpose. All religious traditions include pilgrimages, from going to Mecca (Islam) to visiting the Wailing Wall (Judaism) to traveling to Bodh Gaya (Buddhism). Christianity has several pilgrimage sites in the Holy Land, and Christian destinations in Europe include the Camino de Santiago in Spain and the Way of St. Francis and the Way of St. Benedict in Italy.
Right now, with travel still so limited, there aren’t many pilgrimage options, but it’s still possible to be a local pilgrim and make your spiritual journey close to home—or even at home. All you need is a desire to deepen your faith.
One of the few places I’ve gone since mid-March is the beautiful labyrinth at St. Thomas Church in Whitemarsh, Pa. As I walk this prayer path, my worries and distractions fade away. Approaching the center of the labyrinth, I find myself feeling closer to God and usually stay there for quite a while before beginning the walk back out.
At home, I begin my pilgrimage in quiet meditation and then pick up a pen and write in my journal. Sometimes I have a specific intention. Other times I’m just yearning to grow spiritually. Writing helps me clarify why I’m taking this journey at this time.
We can and should think of our whole lives as a pilgrimage. We are each on a journey that will end by coming home to God.
Physical movement is an important part of my pilgrimage, and I have several favorite nearby hikes and walking trails. But even an hour spent in my backyard with the flowers and birds is enough to inspire me. I also like to spend time reading books about spiritual life and listening to music that inspires me to feel more deeply.
Toward the end of my pilgrimage, I revisit my journal entry. Very often I have a new insight related to my earlier intention. After that, I pray. I have a Catholic rosary, a set of Anglican prayer beads and a small wooden holding cross that I love to use during these moments. It’s important to me to formally close this sacred time, just as I would come to the end of a road in Jerusalem or Lourdes, France.
We can and should think of our whole lives as a pilgrimage. We are each on a journey that will end by coming home to God. Our paths may look strikingly different, and that’s fine. What matters is living with awareness, with intention—not just going through the motions.
These past months have upended our lives in so many ways, but one blessing of our isolation is the opportunity to take stock, reflect on where we are going and possibly make some changes. The inner journey of the pilgrimage affords us the opportunity to learn more about who—and whose—we are.
I still dream about making a pilgrimage to a faraway place, but I won’t forget that my real pilgrimage is a journey within, a journey of the mind and heart. And for that, I need not travel far at all.
One of the most enjoyable parts of a pilgrimage is discovering your favorite music and reading material for the journey. Use these recommendations as starting points for your exploration.
Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living by Thich Nhat Hanh (Parallax Press, 2005) In this book by the gentle, wise Vietnamese monk, we see a hopeful vision of a better society based on mindfulness and a deep connection with all beings.
Sadhana, A Way to God: Christian Exercises in Eastern Form by Anthony de Mello (Image, 1984) Using 47 spiritual exercises from Eastern and Western traditions, Jesuit priest de Mello offers a way to learn prayer from the heart.
Peace of Heart in All Things: Meditations for Each Day of the Year by Brother Roger of Taizé (GIA Publications, 2004) The founder of France’s Taizé community shares brief but profound meditations on faith and hope for every day of the year.
You Are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living by Henri Nouwen (Convergent Books, 2017) This collection of writings by theologian Nouwen reminds us that, no matter how badly we may feel about ourselves at times, we are, now and forever, God’s beloved children.
“On the Nature of Daylight” by Max Richter British-German composer Richter combines classical and ambient music to create a lovely, deeply emotional soundscape.
“Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in a Mirror)” by Arvo Pärt A mesmerizing minimalist piece for piano and violin by Estonian composer Pärt, who writes religious and classical music.
Johann Sebastian Bach’s six suites for unaccompanied cello By turns melancholy and tender, these small masterpieces speak especially to those in need of consolation.
“O Vis Aeternitatis” (“O Power Within Eternity”) by Hildegard von Bingen This 11th-century German Benedictine abbess and philosopher was one of the greatest medieval composers. This is one of her gorgeous chants—otherworldly music to transport the spirit.
Works by Dan Musselman Musselman has recorded many hours of beautiful piano versions of contemporary Christian songs, which provide a perfect sonic background for contemplation.