FOR AGES, THOSE living as monks, cloistered nuns, hermits, and wandering pilgrims have mastered the art of turning loneliness into solitude, creating a real presence to themselves, and to God. These spiritual explorers were often confined—as many of us are now—into narrow spaces, yet pilgrimage to the authentic self explores an interior landscape. The exterior pilgrimage often reflects the interior path of spiritual imagination conducted in confinement. Their lessons and practices are not cloistered today; they offer liberating tools that can resurrect and protect the space for real presence for all who desire detachment from the omnipresence of screens. Simply consider this: You can’t walk on unexpected pathways while looking at screens.
Untethered from normalcy
Pilgrims move in two directions at the same time—an outward direction toward a holy destination and an inward journey seeking an encounter with the sacred. Two of the best academic scholars of pilgrimages, Victor and Edith Turner, explain it in this one sentence: “Pilgrimage may be thought of as extroverted mysticism, just as mysticism is introverted pilgrimage.”
Pilgrimages, they suggest, were, and are, no walk in the park, or plain, or mountain. Embarking on such a journey, we become untethered not just from our physical normalcy. These uncertain, trusting steps also move us out of our spiritual familiarity. The pilgrim is invited not only to walk out of boxes of dogmatic beliefs but also to walk away from practices of comfortable spirituality.
This article is adapted from Without Oars: Casting Off Into a Life of Pilgrimage (Broadleaf Books, November 2020).