As I write this, soccer fans from all over the globe will have just returned home from their pilgrimage to the World Cup in Brazil, Tennis fans will be reliving their pilgrimage to Wimbledon and Cricket fans are at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton. Committed gardeners will be planning their pilgrimage to next year’s Chelsea Flower Show. It is not just religious faiths that have pilgrimages: but what is it that makes a good one?
What sporting, religious and any other pilgrimage have in common is that they are journeys to somewhere meaningful to the pilgrim; they are a special, usually long-distance, trek to somewhere or something that it beyond the ordinary. Pilgrimages are about stepping outside our daily existence, giving ourselves the opportunity to experience this particular journey with more depth, more meaning that we would normally engage with life. Given how routine and ordinary day-to-day worlds tend to be, probably explains why so many individuals choose to make a pilgrimage at least once in their life. It is a personal quest, a commitment as much to oneself as to whatever our end-point is.
And, in good paradoxical manner, pilgrimages are also about companionship: they are shared journeys with companions who share the passion and intent of this particular journey – be it a world championship or sacred shrine. Through common commitment and interest a pilgrimage enables each individual to feel what it is like to be part of a collective: that unique sense of being part of something greater than oneself.
Pilgrimages also, by their nature, tend to be long journeys lasting many days, weeks or even months. Often over unknown and difficult terrain they test our resourcefulness, patience, courage and faith. As such, the real journey of a pilgrimage is a ‘journey to self’, an opportunity to find out what we can do . . . when freed from life’s routine. How do we cope with the back-pack or throbbing blisters that threaten the enjoyment of the process? On a pilgrimage there is no turning back, no denial of such pains: but an honest facing of the realities of the moment, be it whilst lost and alone on a deserted mountain . . . or during a profound moment of bliss . . . as you feel at one with your fellow pilgrims.