Pilgrimage: Journey and Destination

Wildflowers in Swedish Meadow by Circespeaks

Wildflowers in Swedish Meadow by Circespeaks

To see a World in a Grain of Sand and a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.

–William Blake

The little flower carries a promise. It is not dangerous to see ones smallness. Small is not worthless….That which is small can bear the grand in the wonder that holds the infinite…

–K.G. Hammar

Pilgrimage in Sweden today is more focused on the journey than the destination, as was traditional in medieval times, and as is traditional in many Catholic pilgrimage sites, such as Lourdes, even today.

Pilgrimage is a common metaphor for the journey of every life, from beginning to end. Surely many of us are also more focused on the journey than the destination. Even those who have a very clear vision of what the ultimate destination following life on earth is, often agree that the right sort of journey will lead to the desired destination, even if the path is not clearly mapped.

It is at this point that opinions, religious and spiritual convictions, diverge. The journey that is sacred for one, is secular for another. In Swedish pilgrimage today, the distinction between the sacred and secular is not sharply drawn. Many of these pilgrims reject the language and authoritarianism of organized religion in favor of spirituality. Whether a Swedish pilgrim joins a pilgrimage through a tourist organization, an educational or cultural association, or a church, or because it is conveniently passing through the person’s hometown, the sacred and secular are brought together with every step of the journey. Though atheist pilgrims, and some agnostic “seekers” would not use the language of sacred and secular, pilgrimage is both for all. Pilgrimage takes place in the physical lived world, and is sacred, as in set apart from daily life and activity. Each footstep may be a lived prayer or a step towards improved psychological or physical health.

Ideally, we would all live each moment as mindfully as those on organized pilgrimage, but for those not devoted to the contemplative life this is not an easily achieved goal. Nor do all desire such a life. Leaping first and looking second may yield surprising benefits along with the possibility of risk.

Walking and running are not my usual forms of exercise, but the misty morning called to me. Once outside and in motion, I was greeted a woman holding a booklet in her hand. She was only momentarily distracted from meditating on booklet which appeared to contain Christian prayers or Bible verses. When I arrived at the track, I noticed a woman walking slowly yet speaking rapidly without pausing. Her words had the cadence of a prayer, perhaps from the Qur’an or other sacred text, perhaps a repetition of her own petition, or the recitation of multiplication tables. She spoke a foreign language, so I can’t be certain, but the latter seems most unlikely. She spoke with focus while walking, and stopped praying or reciting when she stopped walking. Though we may not think of short walks as pilgrimage, local pilgrimage has also always existed, especially for women, who could not leave the home for any length of time. Lunch-hour pilgrimages go forth from the Pilgrimage Center in Gothenburg, Sweden, and from many Swedish parish churches. We are each on our individual and communal pilgrimage. A common Swedish pilgrim prayer, the prayer of St. Birgitta follows. Rather than beginning by invoking “Lord,” which has an authoritarian, masculine, Christian connotation, simply substitute “Spirit Within,” “Earth,” “Gaia,” “Higgs Bosun Particle” or the name of an inspirational figure or religious leader of your faith.

“Lord, Show me Your Way, and make me willing to walk it.”

–The Prayer of St. Birgitta

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