Like many ancient expressions, the word pilgrimage is built by way of butting two different words against one another and allowing them to together create a new path forward. From the Latin word pergrinus, pilgrimage is built by uniting per (meaning ‘through’) and ager (meaning ‘field’ or ‘land’).
The word clearly suggests a journey through something. Sometimes well-meaning travelers—such as dad’s determined to get their families to a destination come hail or high water—become too overly-focused on the destination.
The concept of pilgrimage skirts destination-thinking, asking travelers to assess the value of the getting-there itself.
Humans have been making pilgrimage journeys for as long as anyone can remember. Some of history’s most influential literature is focused on the act of pilgrimage, take for example Homer’s Odyssey, Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and even Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.Not all pilgrimages are done as an act of devotion, but the most important ones surely are. Click To Tweet
Some might be surprised to discover the wealth of biblical examples of pilgrimage in action.
In Genesis, “the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go…’” (12:1a). So Abram packs his belongings, gathers his family, and sets out. Destination? God simply says,“…the land that I will show you”(12:1b). Stop and consider that for a moment. God initiates the action of Abram’s journey without so much as an answer as to where.
An entire nation participated in a pilgrimage of biblical proportions when years later the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob set out with Moses across the Sinai Peninsula with Moses. Led by a cloud and tailed by the armies of Egypt, the Israelites became pilgrims in a harsh and strange land. Their journey through the desert was as important as the destination, teaching them what it meant to be people of God again.
Perhaps the most poignant of pilgrimages, though, is recorded in the opening pages of the New Testament. Matthew records how four-hundred years of God’s silence was miraculously broken by the birth of a king. Rather than remember the manger or shepherds, Matthew chooses instead to tell the dramatic tale of a collection of magi who make a cross-continent pilgrimage to honor the Christ child. And ever since, pilgrims have been wandering across land and sea with their souls set on heaven and their hearts longing for Jesus in the journey.
PRACTICE: If you could make a pilgrimage anywhere, without care of the time or cost, where would you go? … and why?