In my last posting entitled “Prayerfulness,” I mentioned the idea of turning daily life into a pilgrimage. The word pilgrimage usually conjures up images of people taking long, sometimes difficult trips to shrines or other sites, such as Jerusalem, Lourdes, Rome, or the Camino de Santiago. According to Professor Robert J. Wicks, however, an attitude of prayerfulness causes everything we encounter — the good and the bad — to bring us closer to God’s presence; therefore, even an ordinary (or not so ordinary) day can be approached as though we’re on a pilgrimage.
This idea intrigues me. An actual pilgrimage can be very expensive, time-consuming, and — therefore — out of reach for most people. Many of them are trips-of-a-lifetime that can be undertaken only once. So I started thinking about how the word pilgrimage could apply to everyday life, using this definition: a pilgrimage is “a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion.”
A journey or search of moral or spiritual significance…
What is more of a spiritual journey than life itself? Part of our responsibility as Christians is to seek a close relationship with God, and that relationship must be nurtured every single day, not just in special places or at certain times.
…made to some sacred place…
Daily life usually doesn’t involve going to places where miracles or visions or Biblical events occurred, but can’t our homes, our workplaces, our parks, our parish churches, and any place where we interact with other human beings become sacred places? Maybe not if we use the more specific definition of the term sacred as “holy and therefore deserving veneration,” but if we use the broader definition (“connected with God and religion”), then perhaps these ordinary places become sacred if we’re following Christ’s teachings while we’re in them.
…as an act of religious devotion.
Professor Wicks makes the case that an attitude of prayerfulness is a form of theocentric living, or “being in the present with our eyes wide open to the presence and reflection of God in all things, including ourselves” wherever we are. To me, moving through daily life with this attitude qualifies as an act of religious devotion.
So, I concluded that an ordinary day does have the potential to become an actual pilgrimage, and I decided to try it.
I’ve never been on a pilgrimage to a holy site (a trip to Rome is on my bucket list), but if I were about to embark on one, I’m sure that I’d feel a sense of excitement and adventure. I would be expecting to experience the sacred, so I would be filled with anticipation. But could I provoke this feeling on a normal day? One day this past week, as I left the house to get in my car to drive to an ordinary day of work, I looked at the rising sun in the distance and said to myself, “I wonder how I will encounter God’s presence in my life today,” and “I wonder how I will be able to do God’s work today.” With these thoughts, I created for myself an expectation that these things would occur, and I began looking forward to finding out what would happen.
Next, I just tried to pay more attention. Whenever I’m on a trip and visiting an unfamiliar place, I tend to notice a lot more about my surroundings because they’re all new and interesting. This is often difficult to do when I’m traveling the same paths I travel every day, but as I drove, I noticed the passing scenery. At my workplace, I paid more attention to my interactions with others, watching for any way that I could help, encourage, soothe, or share. I tried to follow the advice of my priest, who said in a recent homily that we are called to open ourselves up to the people we meet. In my opinion, it’s too bad we don’t have a greeting like that of the Hindus, who say “Namaste” when encountering each other. Namaste means “the divine in me bows to the divine in you.” What a wonderful way to begin any interaction with a fellow human being! Before you’ve said anything else to each other, your greeting has established that you’re both spiritual beings who should respond to each other as such. Even in the absence of such a greeting, though, we can remain aware that every interaction with someone can become a chance to love and serve.
Once travelers to a holy site reach their destination, they are often rewarded with the feeling of a special connection to the divine. During my daily-life pilgrimage, as I noted the glint of sunlight on a pond; and the glossy sheen of a blackbird’s feathers; and the chill of the early morning air; and the brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges of fall leaves, I thought to myself, “Our Lord made it all, and He made it for us.” The thought triggered the sense of awe and reverence that I know I would feel if I were treading on ground where Jesus walked or drinking healing water at the shrine of a saint. Plus, during the course of my workday, approaching others as fellow pilgrims made all of my interactions with them seem richer and more meaningful. Maybe the intensity of those emotions would be stronger at an actual holy place, but God was definitely present on my own daily journey.
A pilgrimage that involves a trip away from home does have one important advantage over a daily-life pilgrimage: it offers a break from the distracting hustle and bustle of the everyday and provides the opportunity to focus solely on spiritual development for an extended period. For that reason, I still hope we all can go to holy sites every time we get the chance.
In the meantime, I’m going to continue turning my everyday’s into pilgrimages. I’ll let you know how it’s going.