Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tourists and Pilgrims

I haven't seen the paper yet today but if they weren't pressed for space this should be in it.

Tourists and Pilgrims

I took my family back to our favourite campground in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. This was our fifth summer in a row visiting there. We love it, the kids love it, we make day trips to various locations in the area, and we're always kind of sad to come home. As nice as a vacation is, it's not real life. It's an escape from real life. When we're on vacation we're only tourists.

Trips, journeys, vacations, they're wonderful things. Once the anticipation and excitement of Christmas is over my family starts looking forward to our summer camping trip to the Finger Lakes. But that vacation lasts a week or two. It's an escape, a change of scenery, a break from the everyday. We have a different experience there from the locals who are there year-round.

A book that I read while we were on vacation talked about tourists and pilgrims. It mentioned Trinity Church in New York City, one of the oldest churches in the United States, that sits near the edge of the World Trade Center site. Since September 2001, more than two million visitors a year have passed through its historic doors. Most of these people are spiritual tourists, nomads trying to make sense of the violence, suffering, and war that have engulfed us. Rev. Dr. Jim Cooper, the senior clergyperson at Trinity Church says, "They come. They come in droves. But I don't want them to leave as tourists. I want them to become pilgrims. I want them to connect, to know that there is something more."

We're all on some kind of spiritual journey. One researcher did a search of numerous articles about spirituality to come up with a definition and concluded that spirituality, in whatever form, is about making meaning. We're all on a spiritual journey of self-discovery and meaning but simply being on the journey doesn't mean that people will find meaning. When we "connect," when we discover that journeys can become pilgrimages, then we change from being tourists to being pilgrims.

As pilgrims we're not on a vacation to escape life, instead our journey embraces life more deeply. We find meaning in the destination of our pilgrimage and in the community of fellow pilgrims. Like the year- round residents of a vacation community, the locals, becoming a pilgrim is about being a year-round member of the community. It's about walking together through all the seasons, celebrating in the festivals, living through ordinary times, suffering at dark moments.

In the church we are on this pilgrimage together. We journey together, we change and grow and find meaning for our lives. And it's not just a journey of self-discovery and personal meaning. As pilgrims we find that God is transforming us as a community and together we work to transform the world through God's love and peace.

After our vacation we came home, and it's good to be home. For a while we were tourists but now we're back to being pilgrims, traveling life's journey connected to our community of faith, connected to God.


Pastor David said...

A great reflection on the concept of pilgimage, thanks. I hope that it did get into the paper.

Tom in Ontario said...

Yes it did.

Diane said...

Oh, I'm glad to hear that. I thought that was a nice piece, and I've often thought of the difference between being "tourists" and "pilgrims" myself.

LutheranChik said...

A thoughtful essay -- kudos!

I've had so many dislocations -- some sad, some glad; some relational, some spiritual -- over the last couple of years that I think I've come to understand the concept of life-as-pilgrimmage more than ever before. And it's really not a bad place to be, if you pack wisely and keep an open mind.;-)