Being A Pilgrim

Every living spiritual tradition, whether it makes claims about being a religion or not, has embraced the notion of pilgrimage. Sites that people have held to be "sacred" have been a part of human consciousness and practice from the beginning of human history.

 The scallop shell is to be found all along the way of the camino. Pilgrims made this sign to mark the way and, after arriving in Santiago, went on to the coast to pick up a shell for themselves. This signified they had made the trip.

The scallop shell is to be found all along the way of the camino. Pilgrims made this sign to mark the way and, after arriving in Santiago, went on to the coast to pick up a shell for themselves. This signified they had made the trip.

Movement is an important part of physical, psychological and spiritual growth. If someone is unable to move physically, we say they are "handicapped." If someone doesn't move from one developmental stage to another psychologically, we say they are "immature," "not grown up." I have for decades referred to our spiritual work as making, and I got this phrase from Robert Johnson, a "journey into wholeness." 

In religions, pilgrimage is a sacred journey, to a sacred place with a sacred goal. This would be true for the early followers of Jesus to journey to Jerusalem or for Muslim people today to make a trek to Mecca. Buddhists also have their sacred sites they journey to to practice their sacred rituals. 

For over a thousand years the cathedral in Santiago, Spain has been the destination of such a pilgrimage. Tradition, or legend, has it that James, one of Jesus' closest disciples and the first follower of Jesus to be executed for his faith, went to Spain to preach the "good news." When he returned to Jerusalem, he was executed. His disciples took his body back to Spain for burial. According to the legend, a hermit was guided to the place of burial by a star. The body was found in a field by this hermit and the place was named "field of the star" or "Compostela." For over a thousand years now, pilgrims from all over the world, first beginning in what we now call Europe, walked their way to this site. The journey is called "the way of St. James," or, simply "the Camino."

There are many routes pilgrims took to Santiago coming, as they were, from so many different places. The entire route now made popular by books and the film "The Way" with Martin Sheen is about 500 miles and the popularity of this pilgrimage, for whatever reason, is growing.

We are starting the portion we will be doing this time in Lyon, France and will go all the way to Santiago where there is a great and beautiful cathedral. As one gets closer to Santiago, the route narrows to become just one path. 

In the beginning the church took advantage of the pilgrims' faith and turned the pilgrimage into something one did to gain forgiveness in this life and merit in the life to come. I doubt very many people today do it for that reason. The pilgrimage is made for a variety of reasons: as a physical challenge, as something that is gaining in popularity, as a way to learn about history. I'm sure there are more reasons than these. 

On my first experience of doing part of the Camino a few years ago, I was moved by the ancient art and archectiture. This sort of thing touches something deep within me. My intention is to write about each day's experience and post here a few pictures that you might find touching as well.

One theory, and it is only one, about why labyrinths came to be used by the ancient churches is that people who could not make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem or, later, to Santiago, could vicariously experience the pilgrimage by walking the labyrinth and reflecting on the experiences of others. Perhaps this "blog" will serve that purpose for you. I know that the act of writing it is going to help me be more present to my own experience. 

As I said, we start in Lyon. We arrived in Leon on Thursday, exhausted after international travel. After a while to recover, we went to dinner. Lyon is the culinary capital of France - not Paris. We had a wonderful meal. On our way back to our hotel, which is in the old part of the city, and Rick Steves says Lyon has the best collection of medieval buildings of any city in Europe, I looked down and saw the sign of the pilgrimage. 

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Our intent is to explore Lyon on Friday. I'll give you an update after that day is complete.

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I'm putting below two additional random pictures taken in Lyon our first day.