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Pilgrimage, by Rev. Barry Blackford
When I was at school, we had a school hymn that was sung at the beginning and end of each term, its title was ‘To be a pilgrim’. It was written by John Bunyan, the 17th Century author of Pilgrim’s Progress; A story about a man called Pilgrim who found release from his burdens in the love and forgiveness of Jesus. We were always encouraged to think of life as a pilgrimage or journey.
This concept of pilgrimage is something that is growing within our society as we hear about some of the better-known pilgrimages such as the Christian Camino Way to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain and the Muslim Hajj to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Some faiths have compulsory pilgrimages whereas Christianity does not make them compulsory, but would encourage some form of pilgrimage as a spiritual excise.
What is a pilgrimage? A pilgrimage is literally the journey of a pilgrim, a person who journeys to a holy place for religious reasons. Pilgrimages have been popular for centuries and can take many forms. They were originally walked or ridden over many days and were popular in the Middle Ages, as recorded in Chaucer’s 14th Century Canterbury Tales. These were somewhat caricatured but the sense of shared experience and fun are still present. The discipline of walking or riding a pilgrimage is still common and some, like the Camino, can extend for hundreds of miles.
I am currently organising a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, i.e. Israel and Palestine. Thankfully, we will not be walking the thousands of miles from Melksham on this pilgrimage but enjoying the luxury of aircraft and air-conditioned coaches. There will, I hope, still be that sense of fun and shared experiences. The pilgrimage experience is essentially spiritual. The time taken to reflect upon your life and relationship with God either through the places visited, the conversations held or just the silence of being alone with God can change your life.