I do recommend the movie “The Way” (available on DVD, directed by Emilio Estevez). The script, direction and acting will not win any academy awards, but it is nevertheless an inspiring film. It unashamedly proclaims the healing power of pilgrimage in this spiritually dull age. Martin Sheen, one of my favorite actors, plays Tom, an irascible American doctor who comes to France to deal with the tragic loss of his son (played by Emilio Estevez). Rather than return home, Tom decides to embark on the historical pilgrimage “The Way of St. James” (the Camino de Santiago in Spain) to honor his son’s desire to finish the journey. What follows is a modern version of the Canterbury Tales, with an assorted band of pilgrims from Canada, Ireland, Holland, and the USA. The archetype of pilgrimage works its healing as the group changes from dislike and suspicion to love and respect for each other.
Walking along the way with Jesus is for me one of the most appealing metaphors in the New Testament. John Main wrote, “We must put our whole life into harmony with this search, this pilgrimage, which is a pilgrimage into our own heart. It is a pilgrimage which leads us to a freshness of spirit, a clarity of heart and a vitality of spirit (from Moment of Christ). All true prayer and meditation is a search for this harmony, a pilgrimage to union with God.
The climax for the pilgrims on the Camino is experiencing the Santiago de Compostela Botafumeiro, one of the largest incense burners in the world swinging above their heads in the Cathedral. Incense had its practical use in medieval times since pilgrims did not always smell very nice and it was thought to ward off disease. But incense is primarily a symbol of prayer. It is a moment of awe as the burner swings from one end of the Cathedral to the other with its smoke ascending to heaven, representing the prayers and hopes of the pilgrims.
Perhaps the yearning for pilgrimage is a seasonal thing, as Chaucer wrote in the Prelude to the Canterbury Tales, “in April … people long to go on pilgrimages.” But I invite you to make your prayer, meditation and walk with God a daily pilgrimage.
If you have walked an ancient pilgrimage route please leave a comment telling us more (and make sure to check the box, “notify me of follow up comments by email”).