by Most Revd John Sentamu, Archbishop of York
The metaphor of life as a journey is one with which we are all familiar. Whether it be travelling along a “rocky road” or life being just “plain sailing” the metaphor is easily accessible and can be applied to both the moment at hand as well as to our whole life, from birth to death.
So when we speak about life not as a general journey, but as a pilgrimage, then we need to reassess our meaning of what we our saying about life. Seeing life as a pilgrimage means saying something very particular about the journey, in both its meaning and its purpose.
A pilgrimage is a particular type of journey. Its purpose is not simply to get from A to B, although each pilgrimage would begin and end in a particular place. For the pilgrimage the starting place and end point are secondary to the purpose of the journey and the nature of the journey itself. Drawing closer to God through the act of the journey and arriving to pay homage in worship are at the heart of the pilgrim’s endeavour. Robert Louis Stevenson’s remark that “it is better to travel than arrive” does not apply here. In pilgrimage it is through the travel, through the act of drawing closer to God, that we are enabled to arrive, to offer more deeply our worship and praise
For members of Religious communities, the pilgrimage as a metaphor for life remains a telling analogy. The joys and travails of the journey are reflected in the community, but always there is a higher purpose being served, a drawing nearer to God along the journey of life until the final heavenly destination is reached.
In the spiritual life the pilgrimage can also be difficult. The hard road to Golgotha along our own Via Dolorosa must always be followed by the joys of walking the road to Emmaus with Christ as our companion. Yet in community we learn to travel not alone but as a band of pilgrims, brothers and sisters, united in our desire to reach our goal, sustaining one another along the path. So together we gaze at, and marvel at, the beauty of holiness; we break bread at table and share our common need; and we bear the heavy load of grief as those amongst us move on to that final part of the journey alone, lifted by our prayers.
Whilst much of the world chooses to live their lives as journey, those in Religious communities choose pilgrimage. It is through this journey of the road less travelled, but ever more valued, through these lives lived in Christ, that we re-discover anew the value of pilgrimage. We live no longer to ourselves, but recognise that Christ is the Way to be walked, the Truth to be told and the Life to be lived.
For the God of the Bible is a pilgrimage God who is forever journeying towards us.