The Spiritual Practice of Pilgrimage

By Joe Webb, Stillpoint Board President

To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history. To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God ... Christians go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to Rome, and also to Compostela… to strengthen their spirit with the witness of faith and love.
— POPE FRANCIS
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I returned recently, with my wife Diane and son Nathaniel, from walking a 118 kilometer (73 mile) section of the 500 plus mile Camino de Santiago de Compostela.  You have probably heard of it by now, as many people have, after the excellent movie, “The Way,” with Martin Sheen, popularized it in recent years. Diane and I heard about it from a friend, watched the movie, and decided to embrace this spiritual practice.

This ancient pilgrimage route originated in 1135 AD, and throughout the Middle Ages it ranked among the top three pilgrimages that Christians undertook, along with those to Jerusalem and Rome.  

You might be saying, “I knew that Buddhists and Muslims did pilgrimages, but I didn’t know that PILGRIMAGE was a thing for Christians!” I understand that question, because in the past 500 years in the West, the focus has been on doctrine, what you believe in your head.  

Many westerners have lost the idea that ground zero of true spiritual life is action, exemplified in SPIRITUAL PRACTICE.  Stillpoint is committed to a “spiritual practice based spiritual life.”

We began our pilgrimage journey in Sarria, Spain, and we had to walk an average of 10 plus miles a day for a full week – up hills and down, rain or shine, no matter what!  Our goal and our intention was to reach Santiago by Friday.  

The most challenging day was the second one: it was 90 degrees, and we were walking 15 miles that day up very steep hills, uncovered by trees, and in the late afternoon sun.  We questioned ourselves. We felt sorry for ourselves. We drank gallons of water.  We sweated profusely!  

Pilgrimage reminds us that life is difficult, a struggle that requires us to show up, pay attention, and to put one foot in front of the other — always moving forward, intentional, with others and with God, to the goal of spiritual community.

You don’t have to go to Spain to engage in pilgrimage (although I highly recommend it!).  Your life, like mine, is an inward and outward journey toward God – Goodness – Love – Meaning – and Connection.  

Spiritual practice is about centering today, now, on what is important in life, and making it the ONE THING we are doing -- whatever else we might be engaged in. Mindful, contemplative everyday living is a kind of daily pilgrimage.  You can do that, right?  

That is certainly what we tried to do in Spain as we practiced walking with purpose toward God and our Goal.

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Joe Webb has been the President of the Board of Stillpoint: The Center for Christian Spirituality for six years, and on the board for 10 years. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary, and ran his own international management consulting business for 30 years. He is a graduate of Stillpoint’s “Art of Spiritual Direction” program, and works as a spiritual director

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