For anyone who happens to have seen my photos on Facebook from the past few days, there may be those who ask: What’s the difference between “vacation” and “pilgrimage”

“The object of pilgrimage is not rest and relaxation – to get away from it all. To set out on pilgrimage is to throw down a challenge to everyday life.” Or so it says in the foreword to Phil Cosineau’s book, The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred. Cousineau goes on to say that pilgrimage is a ‘transformative journey to a sacred center.” There may be times when a vacation takes on elements of pilgrimage, like a father/son trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and, admittedly, some people have to “take vacation” to go on pilgrimage. The clear difference appears to be the seeking for and feeding of the soul that takes place on pilgrimage.

I’ve brought Cousineau’s book along on this journey. I started reading it at the airport and it truly has allowed me to put my brain in a different frame of mind as I spend the next few weeks with friends while seeking understanding of Saint Paul’s ministry in Greece and Saint John’s stay on the island of Patmos. What does their journey nearly 2000 years ago have to do with mine today and how will it change my ministry in the future? Only time will tell.

But as I begin this pilgrimage, I can’t help but reflect on the lectionary reading from this past Sunday in which Paul spoke to the Athenians at the Areopagus as accounted in Acts 17:22-31. This passage, in which Paul pointed out to the Athenians that their establishment of a shrine to the “unknown god” may have indicated that they may have been hyper-religious or that they may have already recognized God.

In any case, this bit of scripture created an intial lens in which to look at the city with different eyes as I rode the “Hop on, Hop off” tour bus. With its recorded tour filling my ears, I listened as ancient Athenians were noted for creating ideal human images as the standard of the gods. I heard the take of people who named their city Athens after the goddess, Athena.

It seems that while competing with Zeus, she stuck her spear into the ground and an olive tree, with its symbol of peace, sprung forth wheras his had only produced a horse. (Side noteL I find it interesting though that, for the Athenians, Athena remained a virgin goddess.)

As I write this entry, I am sitting on the rooftop of my hotel. The acropolis has just lit up. Pilgrimage…as I think of these ancient people, I think of the security those people must have felt by building these temples above the city to watch over them. Watching over them. Today, there are still those of us who place God in a position of watching over us. Some prefer it that way. For me, even though that image does give me comfort, the visual of God walking among us brings me joy. Looking for and seeing God in the faces I encounter makes looking at daily life a whole new prospect. 

Being displaced while on pilgrimage allows me to see daily life in a whole new way. I look forward to learning about daily like in Paul’s time and relating it to our own time. I look forward to the many different faces I will see alone the way and learn about their lives: the similarities and the differences. I look forward to the challenges I will face along the way. As Cousineau writes, “Always, it is a journey of risk & renewal. For a journey without challenge has no meaning, one without purpose has no soul.” Here’s to pilgrimage!

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