Living Life as a Spiritual Pilgrimage

Jun 29, 2022
Pilgrimage to Calvary

Linda Mastro took this photo during her 2018 pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It depicts the steps to Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Living Life as a Spiritual Pilgrimage

by Linda Mastro and Amy Kulesa

“If we truly want to know the secret of soulful travel, we need to believe that there is something sacred waiting to be discovered in virtually every journey.”

~ Phil Cousineau in The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred

A pilgrimage – whether to a sacred site on the other side of the world or into your heart – invites you to an experience that is personal, expansive, uncertain, and challenging.

  • Personal: Although many others have preceded you on the spiritual path, your walk will be unique. You bring your life experiences, your desires, and your responses to how God speaks and how you listen
  • Expansive: Pilgrimage brings you to the edge of your physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual comfort. Celtic poet David Adams sums this up in this prayerful entreaty:

“Lord, you disturb me, unsettle me,

Moving me out of the shallows,

You draw me into the great deep.”

If you get too comfortable, count on God opening up a way that requires you to dive more deeply into the experience.

  • Uncertain: A “Yes” to God’s call to travel far away and deep within entails living with uncertainty, more focused on questions than on answers.
  • Challenging: The practice of pilgrimage challenges you to open all of your senses and powers of observation. You will see, hear, taste, touch, and smell new sites; you will experience familiar people, places, and experiences in a new way.

“Ideally, a human life should be a constant pilgrimage of discovery. The most exciting discoveries happen at the frontiers. When you come to know something new, you come closer to yourself and to the world. Discovery enlarges and refines your sensibility.  When you discover something, you transfigure some of the forsakenness of the world.”  ~ John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes

You may have a calling to live as a pilgrim if you are:

  • up for adventure in good company;
  • looking for the biggest context you can find or imagine in which to live your life;
  • willing to be dependent on friendship, hospitality, and help from friends and strangers alike;
  • ready to ask for visible and invisible help;
  • open to how the nature of the path and what you think is the destination changes, step by step, as the journey unfolds;
  • bold and humble enough to welcome the vagaries of wind and weather along the way.

“Pilgrimage calls us to be attentive to the divine at work in our lives through deep listening, patience, opening ourselves to the gifts that arise in the midst of discomfort, and going out to our own inner wild edges to explore new frontiers.” ~ Christine Valters Paintner in The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within

The Stages of a Pilgrimage

Just as we travel through many phases in a lifetime, the course of a pilgrimage unfolds in many stages.

  • The Longing and the Call: A pilgrimage is a trip you are compelled to take. Something inside you needs to be nurtured. Your soul has become restless. Whether you like it or not, a challenge demands your attention. You may not even know how to name the longing. Yet, when the call comes, you must say “Yes.”
  • Preparation: All travel requires some planning. You choose a date, place, companions, and activities. A pilgrimage has the same components. Just know that the time, place, people, and wanderings may choose you! Preparation for a pilgrimage is an inside job. Yes, you must have your travel documents in order and know what essentials you need to carry. There’s more: You take time to examine your reasons for going. You set intentions for the spirit with which you move into this adventure. You read, pray, discuss, and reflect on the invitation that is taking you out into unfamiliar territory.
  • Walking the Pilgrim’s Path: Waking up, staying awake, paying attention … these are the daily activities of a pilgrimage. Even the mishaps along the way present opportunities to respond as a curious pilgrim instead of as a disgruntled tourist. Some of the most valuable experiences of a pilgrimage occur when things go “wrong”:  the bus breaks down, language differences cause confusion, you confront a prejudice you didn’t know you had. As a pilgrim you take one step at a time, staying open to what you see, hear, taste, smell, and feel; making space for every emotion that arises.
  • Bringing back the Boon: Re-entry from a pilgrimage begins along the pilgrim’s path. You write in your journal and take photographs, capturing moments you want to share with others. Nonetheless, the hardest question to answer when you return home will be, “How was your trip?” A pilgrimage may defy description because so much of the experience will happen in your heart and soul. Yet, a pilgrim brings home more than souvenirs.  You share stories, especially the ones that evoke wonder, surprise, and humor. Just as important, you show, by your actions, the insights and curiosity you experienced on the pilgrim’s path.

Linda Mastro and Amy Kulesa are graduates of the Bon Secours Spiritual Direction Institute. Linda is founder of Living Pilgrimage, a practice that offers individual and group spiritual guidance along with workshops, and retreats. Amy currently serves as the Director of Bon Secours Associates in the United States.  She is a spiritual director in private practice, incorporating breathwork, and a retreat leader.  Linda and Amy Kulesa are leading “Walking in the Heart of Faith,” a Bon Secours pilgrimage to the Holy Land from Monday, February 6 through Friday, February 17, 2023. The pilgrimage includes monthly Zoom gatherings now through January 2023 to begin building community and to help each pilgrim prepare for this journey in body, mind, and spirit. For more information about the Bon Secours Holy Land pilgrimage, visit livingpilgrimage.com/pilgrimages or contact Amy Kulesa at amy_kulesa@nullbshsi.org.