“Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel
The word pilgrimage is documented as having first been used in the 14th century. We know that the word denotes that of a journey. The journey is notably one most often taken to a spiritual or sacred destination. Such journeys are often made by those seeking to pay homage to someone or someplace. Often pilgrims travel with a desire to demonstrate a certain level of devotion, or journey in hopes of receiving a divine blessings and / or enlightenment. Yet others simply journey out of curiosity, with the outside hope of some sort of other-worldly discovery made along the way.
Whereas a journey to a specific place or destination can be both emotionally, as well as spiritually, rewarding it is to the pilgrimage of the heart which is, as Rabbi Herschel reminds us, the most important journey of ones life.
Our life’s journeys often take us on many diverging paths. Our work, our play, our learning all carry us on a variation of tangents. . .with each teaching us, our minds and our bodies, many new, useful and exiting things.
And yet sadly it is to these very types of journeys in which we cling, unknowingly, as if to a lifeline. . .all in order to avoid the more intrinsic journey–that internal journey or pilgrimage which is essential in the constructing of the very underpinnings of our moral well being.
Why is that?
Why are we so eager to set out on the surface journeys of body and mind, yet are unwilling to venture on the intrinsic journey of the heart and soul?
Is it because these intrinsic journeys are often more raw, more real, more painful?
Are they not the journeys of addition, or rather, are they the more ominous journeys of subtraction—the journeys taken to expose and uncover, flaying us open, vulnerable and bare for all to see?
As we age, we begin, little by little, seeing the world differently.
Slowly, as if focusing a pair of binoculars on a blurry distant vista, the vain trappings of this life become evidently more clear.
Moments that were once considered larger than life are now, gratefully insignificant and small.
The what weres and what could have beens no longer seem crucial.
We are discovering that we have grown increasingly aware of our own mortality.
Gone are the devil may care days of our youth. For better or worse the longer we live the more we see our existence growing increasingly limited. Some of us fight this ever sequential awareness tooth and nail damning any ties to aging and our mortality. Yet others of us, those wiser and more confident, muster a steely resolve of keeping calm and carrying on–what more do we really have than doing such?
Blessedly there is a grand peace which accompanies this new understanding. Gone is the whirring din of the internal war cries rousing the rebellion in the belly of youth. The losing battle against this inevitable thing we call aging and life gives way to a strangely quiet and pleasingly calm resolve.
Thus once again, it is time for me to partake on yet another journey, a pilgrimage if I may, back to the place I have called home.
Back to where the initial journey, of this which I call my life, truly began— that being the journey from an angst ridden childhood, through a mostly stormy internal mid-life, to the now quieter and calmer resolve of a thankfully older and wiser pilgrim.
I travel back now to tend to that which has remained behind.
Putting the pieces back together.
This now weekly pilgrimage is so much more than tending to the failing mind of an elderly father. There is the inevitable meeting and battling of ancient demons, all which lie sinisterly in wait hidden in closets, buried in boxes, and merely hovering in the air.
The pilgrim uncovers.
To emerge on the other side victorious for not merely self but for a vanishing father, will be critical.
There is healing to be had.
And isn’t that the impetus of a pilgrimage, that of a journey for clarity, discovery, healing?
For the pilgrim is a seeker.
So should we say that the living of our lives are but journeys going forward while our investigations of those lives lived are actually pilgrimages traveling backwards?
We are mere journeymen throughout our youth eventually growing into pilgrims possessing wizened souls as we age. The pilgrim is on a continuum.
I think I rather like where this journey, this pilgrimage, is now going. . .