I am taking some pretty academic and reading heavy classes this quarter, that are filled with PhD students. In my Comparative Religious Pilgrimage class last week one of the PhD students remarked (in reference to an article about pilgrimage vs. tourism):
"I find myself really bothered by the fact that there is not a clear system for defining what makes a pilgrimage a pilgrimage. I need to have a concrete way of explaining this."
And I found myself thinking, "I have never once had that thought. That is so far removed from what I consider to be important." Wherein lies the difference between students who are preparing for ministry at seminary and those who are preparing for academia. I feel like I am sometimes floating above the academic work, trying to put the pieces together and why they matter for my ministry later.
Learning about Hindu death rituals and pilgrimage is interesting, but what matters to me is looking at the motivations for pilgrimage, what that means for my congregations at a later date. It can be kind of exhausting to continue to hold the concept of what this all means, but it does matter.
I think that pilgrimage is a universal for meaning-making in religion. It is less important for Christians, particularly in a post-modern context, because our religious expression has God present in everything, everywhere. It is not necessarily mandated by our religious institutions that we journey to a certain geographic location (for example, like the hajj), but we often do so in order to feel closer to God. I think this is the take-away for a future minister from this class.
What does pilgrimage mean for Christians?
What can we as Christians learn from the pilgrimages of other religious traditions?
How can Christians nurture their own relationship with God and in community through pilgrimage?
If something is not mandated, why do it? What might we have to gain?