We just launched Preparing for Pilgrimage with Sally French For Individuals and For Groups.
As a culture, we have long valued feeling connected to the people who came before us. Physical proximity to places they lived, their possessions, or their physical remains can provide us with that sense of connection. We visit the graves of loved ones who have died. For centuries, people wore jewelry made of the hair of their parents and grandparents; some people still do. We pass down furniture that people used and homes in which people lived. We tour places where historic people lived to get a sense of what daily life was like for them. Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-Upon-Avon, for example, welcomed 872,000 people in 2017, while the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam gets over 1.2 million visitors per year. People want to experience these places because they were part of everyday life for people whom we respect.
This impulse for connection is part of what fuels pilgrimage. Pilgrims often travel to places where Jesus walked, where saints are buried, where other Christians have gone before them. But pilgrimage offers more than an ordinary journey to a culturally important place does for several reasons. First, the journey matters as much as the destination. Pilgrimage is a holy journey, prayerful and intentional in itself as well as the means to reach the sacred destination. There’s also sometimes a sense of walking in the footsteps of the Christian travelers who came before us, which offers a connection to fellow pilgrims throughout the church’s history. Second, the connection a pilgrim tries to establish has a strong spiritual element. We try to connect with the living presence of God through pilgrimage to a destination sacred to our faith — perhaps using that sense of connection with the events that took place there or the people buried there, as well as through prayer and contemplation. Third, most pilgrims expect spiritual transformation and growth in response to the journey — for the pilgrimage to open our hearts to God’s working in our lives in new ways.
In this course, veteran pilgrimage leader Sally French teaches us how to plan for and make the most of the pilgrimage experience. She discusses ways to treat the pilgrimage as a sacred journey rather than as tourist travel. She talks about practical difficulties that can come up during the pilgrimage — expectations that people should have going into the experience, for example, and ways to think about logistics so that leaders and participants can appreciate the sacred nature of the pilgrimage. Finally, she discusses ways to respond to the journey and integrate what we learn from it into our day-to-day lives.
This course is ideal for anyone interested in learning more about pilgrimage, either in preparation for one or because they are interested in pilgrimage as a spiritual practice. For a preview of the course, please click on the video below.