studying at st barnabas

Life: Pilgrim or Tourist?


I want to pick up Ann Nadge’s most interesting discussion, “How does a pilgrim differ from a tourist?” [Here]  Ann’s discussion was inspired by her recent pilgrimage to “The Holy Land.” I very much appreciate Ann’s notion of the pilgrim who is ‘ready to enter the mystery’. I am pondering these ideas myself in my final weeks of preparation to walk the Portuguese Camino which follows the ancient way of pilgrims, legend tells us, from Portugal northwards to the tomb of the apostle St James in Santiago de Compostela.

The Synoptic Gospels report that James, brother of John, the beloved disciple, was one of the first disciples to join Jesus. (Matthew 4:21-22, Mark 1: 19-20). His martyrdom is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, and tells of his death by the sword at the hands of King Herod. (Acts 12: 1-2) Whilst there is some controversy about the burial place of James, Santiago de Compostela has certainly become a place of pilgrimage of growing interest. Since the early Middle Ages, pilgrims have walked the various routes across Europe, making their way to the Spanish city. In a few weeks I will join them. Will I be a pilgrim or a tourist?

I understand a pilgrimage as a journey that has an intentional spiritual dimension to it. Yes, I will take photographs and eat paella, but these are not my reasons for taking this journey. For me, whilst it will be wonderful to reach Santiago, the destination, the journey itself will be my focus. There is the meditative rhythm of constant walking coupled with the ever-present knowledge that I will only reach the next place on the road by taking each step. There is no easy way, but one foot in front of the other. Some days are difficult. There is heat, tiredness, sore feet, and yet on other days the joys of all that surrounds me – bird life, plants, the early morning sun, the greetings of other walkers.

For me, the pilgrimage can be seen as a symbol of one’s life journey. Walking is a very physical activity and each day of walking unfolds differently. One never knows when one sets out what the day will bring. I want in my own journey to Santiago to ponder the Mystery at the heart of all Life and yes, to ‘enter the mystery’ I am sure there are many ways to contemplate the Mystery of God and one does not even need to leave one’s own home to do it. And yet, one can be profoundly changed by the physical journey as pilgrims over the centuries have discovered.

William Bausch tells the powerful story of the poor rabbi who lived in the city of Krakow.

He lived on the street of the Lost Angel, in the last hovel on that street with his wife and his four children. Since he was extremely poor, he dreamed every night of riches. But one night the dream was exceptionally vivid. He dreamt that underneath a bridge in the city of Warsaw there was a treasure. When he awoke in the morning, he excitedly told his wife and his children about his dream. He then packed food and clothes, and set off for the long journey to find that bridge, unearth the treasure, and be rich. He traveled many long days and long nights and finally arrived at Warsaw. It was just as the dream had pictured it, except for one thing. There was a guard on the bridge, a sentinel who paced back and forth. And so the poor rabbi, tired from his journey, fell asleep in the bushes. When he awoke, he rattled the bushes with his arm, and the guard spied him: ‘You there, come here!’ He was a simple man so he did not run. He sheepishly came forward. The guard said, ‘What are you doing here?’ The simple man who would not run, was also a simple man who would not lie. He said, ‘I have dreamed that underneath this bridge there is a treasure, and I have traveled many long miles to find that treasure and be rich.’ The guard said, ‘That is strange! Just last night I, too, have had a dream. I have dreamt that in the city of Krakow, on the street of the Lost Angel, in the last hovel on that street, where lives a rabbi and his wife and their four children there is buried behind the fireplace a treasure. But, its just a dream. It can never be true. Now, you get out of here before I run you in. Never let me see you again!” So the rabbi raced away and took the long journey back home. He went to his house on the street of the Lost angel, went into his parlor, moved away the fireplace, dug underneath and found the treasure and lived happily ever after.”

William J Bausch  “StoryTelling: Imagination and Faith” Connecticut: Twenty-Third Publications, 1984


Jo Armour

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