Pilgrimage of the Soul

Pilgrimage of the Soul February 25, 2021

This is part of a Lenten series on pilgrimage. Find the first part here.

When Kristen suggested that we all go on pilgrimage this Lent, my heart sank a bit. I’ve always wanted to go on a “real” pilgrimage—looking at you, Santiago de Compostela—but right now, even a pretend or virtual pilgrimage is difficult. While I love the cold, the two ice storms we’ve had in the last few weeks have made even a neighborhood walk treacherous. When the weather is good (or even fair) I walk every day, typically with at least one of my kids. I love my kids and we have great conversations during these walks, but they’re usually about the stories they’re writing or the video games they’re playing. It’s not exactly contemplative.

I’m also in an impasse with my faith. I find that I’m butting heads with Catholicism more often than not, and for the first time in my 50 years I have seriously contemplated leaving the church of my heritage. It is painful, and personal, and ongoing, and perhaps not the best environment in which to choose holy sites to visit (even virtually).

Then I read Holy Envy by Barbara Brown Taylor. Taylor is an Episcopal priest-turned-professor who taught an introductory class to world religions for years. The book is about the many things she learned from the class and from her students. I was fascinated. I grew up in a very conservative Roman Catholic home, and it was strongly implied that attending the services of other faiths—even (maybe especially) other Christian faiths—was not only a sin, it was betrayal. The first non-Catholic service I attended was a non-denominational Christian wedding in my 30s, and even that made me feel horribly guilty. I have never once attended a non-Catholic regular service of any faith, even virtually.

And yet, I have a firm belief in the universal human family, that God created us all on purpose, that we are therefore all brothers and sisters made in God’s image. I believe that there are many ways of praying, of relating to God, of drawing close to the Divine.

So why has my head been stuck in a Roman Catholic hole for so long? Why have I bought into the fear of what other denominations, other religions, might do to my own faith? I’ve been Catholic for five decades; my faith is surely not so fragile that I cannot learn new names for God. I want to learn.

Thefreedictionary.com defines pilgrimage as:

  1. A journey to a sacred place or shrine.
  2. A long journey or search, especially one of exalted purpose or moral significance.

I like that second definition. I feel like I’m in the middle of a long search of exalted purpose and moral significance. I do not have a specific destination in mind, but perhaps that just means that I can’t ever be lost.

And so I am setting off on a pilgrimage of the soul, hoping to see God from other angles, to learn new names for God, to understand my brothers and sisters better. I pray for knowledgeable and patient guides for the journey, who will be willing to share themselves with me and trust me with their beliefs. This pilgrimage will likely take longer than the duration of Lent, but I hope to arrive at Easter with a more expansive view of God.

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