One of my favorite movies is a 1986 coming-of-age story that follows four teenage boys on a hike/pilgrimage across Oregon to find the body of a missing boy. The movie, “Stand By Me,”
Opening Lines: “I was 12 going on 13 the first time I saw a dead human being. It happened in the summer of 1959-a long time ago, but only if you measure in terms of years. I was living in a small town in Oregon called Castle Rock. There were only twelve hundred and eighty-one people. But to me, it was the whole world.”
On Labor Day Weekend 1959, Gordie, Chris, Terry, and Vern discover that the world is a lot bigger than they imagined, and they begin to find their place within that world which, in turn, helps them find themselves and their place within their families.
Pilgrimage is a critical component of discovering who we are and where we are going. These are the questions most asked, and answered, during adolescence. As such,
Adolescence and pilgrimage go hand-in-hand.
The act of pilgrimage is as important today as it has ever been, especially as a tool for profound faith formation during adolescence. Dr. Bert Roebben notes that teenagers “long for life perspectives that are consistent and meaningful and which truly deal with something.” That is why coming of age adventure stories like Stand By Me are so powerful. That is also why they are so nostalgic, we remember our own and long to experience them again.
Roebben reminds us that teenagers are seeking the answers to key questions like:
- How to cope with plurality and profusion without becoming violent or depressed?
- Is there a horizon of meaningfulness that fills our search with sense and sensitivity?
- Are there images of successful lives that can inspire us?
- Do we have to find out everything ourselves?”1
These are all questions that are best answered on the road.
Adolescence is a developmental stage where the formation of a healthy identity is the highest priority. The existential questions of adolescence—“Who am I?”, “Why do I exist?”, “From where do I come?”, and “To where am I going?”—resonate deeply with the questions that pilgrims ask of themselves along the journey.The questions of Adolescence and Pilgrimage are one-and-the-same. Click To Tweet
The Writer (Gordie Lachance): “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve… Jesus, does anyone?”
The act of pilgrimage gives teenagers the opportunity to reflect on Jesus himself along the road.
The power of taking a pilgrimage during the teenage years is that it allows the adolescent pilgrim to contemplate Christ as friend and co-traveler on the journey of life.
When such a pilgrimage is made with a father, mother, grandparent, aunt, uncle, guardian, or other mentor as a guide, the lifelong spiritual impact cannot be overstated.
This is the power of pilgrimage, the opportunity to find find concrete answers to the most important questions of adolescence (and life itself): “Who am I?”, “Why do I exist?”, “From where do I come?”, and “To where am I going?”
PRACTICE: Dream about what an intentional pilgrimage might look like with your son, daughter, grandchild, or other adolescent. Where would you go? When would you go? What might happen?
Write it down.