"This is, of course, the imperative and the appeal of pilgrimage: to change over the course of a journey. As the landscape approaches and then disappears, the traveller confronts his hopes and fears, his questions and doubts . . . and then leaves them behind as he walks, it is hoped, into a place of enlightenment and welcome.
Walking on the Camino de Santiago in Spain...I saw and experienced firsthand the power of the pilgrim path. At the beginning of the journey, many of my fellow pilgrims carried huge rucksacks stacked high and bulging with the necessities of travel, with foam cushions and sleeping bags, teddy bears, tin cups, and extra clothing, flags, and all sorts of bric-a-brac dangling from their massive backpacks.
As the trail wound through mountains and hills, across arid plains and stretches of wilderness ...and as the days bled into weeks, those same overstuffed packs tended to lose their bulk. Near the top of one particularly challenging mountain a day or two from journey's end, I came upon a veritable cairn of T-shirts and waterproofs, paperback books, socks, trousers, bedrolls, and--yes--those teddy bears and tin cups. Labouring up the mountain with my fellow pilgrims, one weary foot in front of another, it was clear that the sense of adventure with which we had all started out had now turned into something else altogether. We were all on the, el camino--but some of us were also, clearly, on The Way.
And the road was growing difficult. Everything unnecessary had to be jettisoned. Everything that hindered, that held back, that weighed down and encumbered--it all had to go.
Entering Santiago, I observed triumphant pilgrims walking or dragging themselves into the city with flaccid packs, a few carrying only what they had stood up in that morning: a hat, a stick, a bottle of water stuck in a pocket. Everything else had been cast aside in order to complete the journey.
The destination was important, to be sure; the path was not an aimless wandering...But it was the journey itself, the physical act of going, that transformed the pilgrims. For if there was to be any transformation in the spiritual orientation of the pilgrim's soul, that change would take place not on arrival as if by magic, but in the long, hard work of The Way."
--from "On the Road Again", an essay by Stephen Lawhead (appears at the end of The Spirit Well)
What needs to go?
What is holding me back, encumbering me?
What must be cast aside in order to complete the journey?
A related, sermon by Gordon T. Smith: Are you a tourist or pilgrim?