The Art of Pilgrimage
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.” T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding
Phillip Cousineau’s The Art of Pilgrimage, The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, has been a book that I have gone back to time and again, preparing for a trip and hoping to make the journey a pilgrimage.
Cousineau’s family traveled a great deal in his childhood. He relates how his father thought travel was good for the mind while his mother felt it was good for the soul. Cousineau reminds us that a traveler visits a place. A pilgrim allows a place to become a part of or visits within him. As travelers we often plan trips and then, upon getting to their destination, have a sense of unfulfilled expectation. This disappointment results from the way we engage with the place, not the site itself.
The Celts would tell us to imagine the moment of our departure as like crossing a threshold of a door.
Cousineau also asks us to imagine our first memorable journey. What images rise up in our soul? They may be a childhood visit to the family gravesite, a visit to relatives who live on a farm, or a trip with our favorite aunt to a religious site. Do these feelings have any connection with our lives today? The author asks us if there are some place that are sacred to us, our family where we long to visit? He suggests that as we undercover what we long for, we will discover who we are.
Cousineau reminds us that we will reconnect to our soul, the part of God within us by learning to be aware and listen to our surroundings. On the pilgrimage we are to look and listen intently to everything around us. Listening to music in solitude is his recommendation of how to get back into the habit of listening to our surroundings. We also usually do not look, but we overlook. Keeping a journal may help us to look more closely as we describe what we are seeing.
There is an old Nigerian saying that “the day on which one starts out is not the time to start one’s preparation.”
We are to begin the Sacred Journey with our journal. We are encouraged to keep sacred a silent alone part of our day where we write in our journal. Our journal can help us relive our pilgrimage, but we can also relive the journey by bringing back pictures, stones, or shells as did Anne Lindberg in Gifts from the Sea.
We are also to plan ahead how we will reenergize ourselves each day. We are to be open to serendipity, coincidences, that may take us off our planned path.
I remember a time I spent at the College of Preachers at the National Cathedral. I was walking through the Cathedral near the entrance, and a large group of elementary students, perhaps ten years old, hurried in. They were distracting my silent mediation. But then I most vividly remember one young boy tilting back his head and looking up at the high vaulted ceilings and immediately shouting out, “Wow!!” To this day, I can still see and hear that young prophet.