“The purpose of a pilgrimage is about setting aside a long period of time in which the only focus is to be the matters of the soul. Many believe a pilgrimage is about going away but it isn’t; it is about coming home. Those who choose to go on pilgrimage have already ventured away from themselves; and now set out in a longing to journey back to who they are.” L.M Browning, Seasons of Contemplation: A Book of Midnight Meditations
I’ve thought about this quotation for some time now…there is no doubt in me that the pilgrimage is an amazing experience for the spirit. The time taken to think, reflect and pray is well worth the effort. Finding a focus for reflection helps – whether it be a sacred place, the life of a holy person or sacred writings. Each offers a richness to nourish the spirit, to teach us important lessons.
‘Coming home’ suggests that the answers to our life questions and spiritual development are with us, waiting to be uncovered while we are ‘away’ from ourselves. Being away from the busy work and family life, the daily routines and the attendant stresses of these provides an opportunity to contemplate, to delver deeper into ourselves and discover what is the ‘essential me’. Sometimes in that process we find things we don’t like, things that challenge us and need to be resolved. The real challenge is to accept those things, embrace them and come to a peace of mind.
One of the pilgrimages I took to Ireland had Catherine McAuley as a focus. She lived in the 1800s and devoted her life to ameliorating the poverty of women and children in Dublin. She founded a congregation of Catholic nuns who, like her dedicated themselves to bringing education, health and well-being to those who were poor. In many cases, poverty is the result of structural change, by policies and actions of governments and businesses. Sometimes, this is ‘progress’ and people get left behind. Poverty is not usually the result of laziness or poor decisions.
Reflecting on her life, being in her place, seeing the legacy she left helped me to realise the power of education, of empathy, of deliberate action to help others. It also led me to reflect that some of my ancestors would have been aware of this extraordinary woman, perhaps even the recipients of her charity, or aiding her endeavours. This sense of reaching back into the past, into the reality of people’s lives through real people is very powerful, and does bring into focus the notion of ‘coming home’.