I am reading Jesus A pilgrimage by James Martin S.J. at the moment, and since I have just come back from my cycling tour, I have been thinking a lot about what Pilgrimage means. In the dictionary of course, it says:

A journey made to a sacred place, or a religious journey.

I’m not a good traveler – I don’t like being on planes or buses, or trains for too long: I’m happy enough driving myself, but I don’t like being a car passenger. I get motion sickness and find it all a bit stressful. I’ve always been quite happy with the idea of the religious journey, and that the inner journey is in itself, a pilgrimage, without the necessity of making a literal journey. However, I have recognised something different about my cycle touring now, compared with when I was younger and something of the sign James Martin describes near the entrance of the Church of the Nativity in his book hit home with me. It says:

We are hoping that: If you enter here as a tourist, you would exit as a pilgrim. If you enter here as a pilgrim, you would exit as a holier one.

Jesus A pilgrimage, James Martin S.J.

In my student days when I last did cycle touring, I visited castles and tourist attractions on my stops, but now that I’ve taken it up again in my second stage of life, I find myself less interested in that sort of thing, and more drawn to churches, abbeys and priories, and in finding a still, quiet spot so that I can pray. The difference was underlined this year when I stopped in Framlingham in Suffolk. Although I’d set my sights on visiting the castle there, when I arrived, I spent a significant time in the church, praying and soaking it in, but then swiftly moved past the castle, having lost any interest in it. There was a definite compulsion to get on the road again and to not linger any further. In God in All Things, Gerry Hughes says:

Pilgrimage is a way of projecting our inner and unmanageable hopes, longings, bewilderment, fears and confusions into an outer and more manageable form. We choose some objective that represents the undeniable longing of the inner self.

God in All Things, Gerard W Hughes S.J.

And it is making me think deeply about what is going on in me. He also says:

Because they are on a journey, they do not know what is coming next: they do not have the final answers. Pilgrims are constantly subject to surprises and have to take risks.

God in All Things, Gerard W Hughes S.J.

And I know I don’t have answers. There were risks on my tour…the track on Peddars way disappeared at times and it felt like I was traveling through jungle: my bike got damaged and I had to replace the back wheel. And yet, on this track I encountered the surprise of the stone carved cross:

Stone carved cross on Peddars Way. Summer tour 2019.

And even though I wouldn’t want to do it again, I’m still glad I did it the first time, because I wouldn’t want to have missed it. A strange parallel: I can think of mistakes in my life that I wouldn’t want to make again, but I wouldn’t change it if I had the time again, because of what has come out of it. And again, thinking about what comes out of it, Gerry Hughes says:

…reaching my destination is of minor importance compared with the lessons I learned through the journey itself.

God in All Things, Gerard W Hughes S.J.

but also, in apparent contradiction:

Pilgrimage mirrors life in that it needs direction and purpose.

God in All Things, Gerard W Hughes S.J.

Again, this rings true. I have my accommodation already booked and a set number of miles to cycle in order to get there – direction and purpose. But the road is unfamiliar to me. It is mapped out, and I set off, possibly with some ideas about where and when I will stop, but it doesn’t always happen in the way I have planned. In terms of where I stopped to pray, these were left mostly to be encountered on the way, trusting that I would find Him there on the journey.

God is on the journey all the time, not just at the end of it.

God in All Things, Gerard W Hughes S.J.

I found it to be the case. There was one place I traveled through, and it was lunchtime and raining, so a good time to stop. But the place was dedicated to Mammon, and I experienced such a revulsion there that I kept on going, shaking the dust off of my feet as I left. I ate my lunch sitting in a lay by on a busy road, contemplating the strength of the revulsion I had felt passing through the previous town.

St. Ignatius himself was of course a pilgrim, and in a far more serious way than I am describing here, or that I could even aspire to. Brian Grogan S.J. in his book about St Ignatius says:

The pilgrim is one who ventures into a foreign land, who makes himself an alien, who loses contact with the familiar props of his ordinary life, and who deprives himself of all help other than the charity that people show to those whom they do not know, but who have the indications of being poor.

Alone and on Foot, Ignatius of Loyola, Brian Grogan S.J.

In the film, The Way, the father character, played by Martin Sheen, is criticized by one of his fellow pilgrims because he has the back up of his credit card and his wealth. I felt this criticism, because I am fully aware of the structures I put in place to keep myself safe on my trip.

There is a tension here, as perhaps there is in all aspects of life – the need to make plans versus complete trust in God. Perhaps the physical journey, the pilgrimage, is a fractal pattern of the movement in life itself; from self reliance to complete trust and reliance on God and those He works through on our journey. We have to recognise God in others.

Each one of us lives within this Trinity, so my life is essentially a life of relatedness: a relatedness not only to the three divine persons but to every human being and to the whole of creation.

All Things, Gerard W Hughes S.J.

In the life of St. Ignatius, we have an inspiring example of what that means. Ignatius is attributed as saying after all:

Act as if everything depended on you; trust as if everything depended on God.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola

And finally, to the last part of the trailer of the film The Way:

Oh, you can do this on a bike? Why the hell are we walking?

Joost, The Way.

Suffice to say, I have a desire to do just that, El Camino, by bike.