Going the Way of the Pilgrims

My journey has unintentionally turned into a pilgrimage of sorts.

When I started out on my travels a year ago I did acknowledge a spiritual intent. Some people asked me why I was going alone and, among other things, I would say because, “It’s not just a tour to see things, but  a spiritual journey.” But what I meant was, spiritual in the sense of me growing and learning as a person – me and myself discovering the world and letting it teach me. I didn’t necessarily mean me and God.

But it turned that way. My internal spiritual state-of-being has run its own course alongside the physical journey, from anger to doubt to numbness to lost-ness to repentance to joy to intimacy with the Creator (not necessarily linear or even in that order). Each place I’ve been has played a key role, from being spiritually alone in Alaska, to being spiritually doused in Madagascar.

Now that I’m in Europe, it’s changed in nature again.

Starting off in Glendalough at St. Kevin’s Hermitage set that mood and started a more direct conversation with me and God. Ever since, I’ve been physically journeying to famous pilgrim sites, partly because of my interest and familiarity with churches and partly because they also tend to be major tourist attractions. Places like St. Kevin’s monastic city, Christ Church, Westminster, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur and Mont St. Michel are incredible architecturally and historically, so tourists flock to them.  At each place, there are signs asking tourists to be quiet and respect the people who came to pray and brochures address the pilgrims directly with encouragements, blessings and prayers. Pilgrims have been journeying to these sights for centuries, on foot, walking for months, and some even stayed for the rest of their lives as monks.

Mont St. Michel

I pass through, utilizing the swiftness of modern transportation, but at each site, I sit down and stay a while, to pray, to attend mass, to let the sacredness of the place wash over me.

Sacre Couer in Paris, for some reason, really did something. I had just been sitting on the grassy hill outside in the midst of a hundred or so Parisians and tourists, picnicking and taking in the sweeping view of the city. After finishing my baguette and salad, I went inside the church with a light, casual heart. I expected to be awed at the architecture, be impressed by it’s long spiritual heritage, sit down and pray and leave.

Blindsided, I walked through the door, took a few steps toward the prayer area facing the front-and-center of the church and tears started dripping down my face. Not sadness necessarily. I just felt seen. 

I sat down and stared at the painting of Jesus on the forward ceiling – his arms outstretched, surrounded by angels and every race of man in heaven. I have never been affected by a religious painting until then. (And I’ve seen many since arriving in Europe.)

I stayed for four hours. In that same seat, I sat with my eyes open, closed, praying, being silent. The nuns did an evensong and the priest did communion. It was all in French, but I could understand the simplicity of most of the hymns.

I stayed for four hours. It felt like hardly any time at all. I had meant to go to the Eiffel Tower for a night view of the city, but it didn’t matter anymore.


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