Pilgrims are persons in motion – passing through territories not their own – seeking something we might call contemplation, or perhaps the word clarity will do as well, a goal to which only the spirit’s compass points the way. ~ Richard Niebuhr

Many of us are out there on the trails, beaches and dirt roads of Gabriola. We’re walking, driving, riding, sailing, and ensuring that we are out appreciating the summer approach and the joys of sunshine and warm temperatures. Sometimes we wander aimlessly just to breathe in the fresh and new air and explore without direction experiencing the beauties of Nature. Many of us use these gorgeous days to complete the first of three journeys for retreat created and organized by Karen Hollis, minister at Christ Church here on Gabriola. It has been a most comforting process of self-discovery and inner growth as we connect our mind, body and spirit with each other and with the natural world around us!

As we prepare for the second journey we are aware of the typical understanding of Pilgrimage as established and promoted by many world religions.

Pilgrimage is significant in most religions because it is a guided journey inward and is based on one’s own perspectives of spiritual expression. Pilgrimages can be simple and direct or can be suggestive, with the emphasis on the journey and not necessarily the destination. Often the guidance directs the pilgrims to a holy place that represents the spiritual energies of the people who identified that particular religion. In Buddhism, for instance, the pilgrimage directs participants to a garden in Lumbini, Nepal, where it is said Siddharta Guatama, who later was called Buddha, was born and lived until he left in search of enlightenment and inner peace.

Christian Catholics, in pursuit of realizing their own personal relationship with God travel from all over the world to Vatican City in Rome. Many seek inner awareness by traveling to homelands of various Saints. Others revel in the Christian expression exudes from the Vatican.

Sri Pada is a holy mountain in Sri Lanka, where at the summit lies a huge rock. Buddhists believe the rock is the footprint of Buddha. Muslims journey there to see the footprint of Adam.

Hindus believe it is the footprint of Shiva; and Christians believe it is the footprint of St Thomas. How we define the mountain top is not significant. The significance is in the journey there.

Mecca is a well-known pilgrimage destination to satisfy the ultimate quest for inner peace in Islamic practice. Getting there is the journey that is inspired by the gentle awareness that Mecca was the home of Mohammed and going there offers suggestions of appreciation and love. It is also one of Islam’s Five Pillars, which states that every Muslim must venture there, to the Hajj, at least once in his/her life, as long as they are able to do so.

Directives in Judaism target Jerusalem in Israel as the ultimate destination for pilgrimage. There, the holy city of Jerusalem offers spiritual depth for many world religions since the Holy City represents the birthplace for many religious leaders.

The Baháʼí community ventures to The Shrine of Báb, located on Mount Carmel, in Haifa, Israel. There lies the burial place of Báb, who founded the Bahá’í Faith. In the shrine, visitors can meander about the Hanging Gardens of Haifa, the terraced gardens gorgeously designed and available to tourists from everywhere.

All that being said, Pilgrimage is actually an inner journey, and like a labyrinth, has a beginning and an end, and it winds round and round and offers opportunities for reflection and learning without getting lost along the way. This is the purpose of Karen’s retreat, to tend to the inner journey at a time where it is difficult to travel. In May some of us worked through the retreat booklet with family members and friends; others made a quiet, personal retreat. Whichever way each of us chose to complete the pilgrimage, we all came together for a Zoom Gathering to reflect on and share our personal experiences. It was awesome!!

Please come and join us for our second Personal Pilgrimage with Karen Hollis: Walking!

Reflections from some of the participants:

“This Pilgrimage Retreat began just as defined in the Introduction – “a journey into an experience of unknowing”; “becoming a stranger in the service of transforming”. As I made my way down the path of “Beginning” I was powerfully moved by so many things: the readings; the practices such as self-anointing with oil; the meaningful prayers and blessings; and the contemplative walking through nature so beautiful and abundant on Gabriola. I’m waiting with anticipation to experience the next phase of the Pilgrimage in June. It promises to indeed be a journey of transformation.”

“For me, many of the readings of the first pilgrimage session were inspirational (Richard Wagamese on saying “Yes!” for example).  Regular meditative walks are already a part of my life, so in a way I do a small pilgrimage in my daily practice.  I think what was most inspiring for me was the gathering together of participants to share their experiences of the pilgrimage process.  It reminded me that I have experienced many pilgrimages in my life, to holy and power places all over the world, as well as to places within, and several of these experiences have been life changing.  So the shared conversation allowed me to open up to a greater understanding of pilgrimage in my life.”

“What an amazing gathering we had on Zoom!!!! Thank you to Karen and all the participants who came together to talk about our experiences and expand on the nuances that occurred for each of us during our independent pilgrimage. There is nothing like #1 creating a programme that inspires self exploration and then #2 sharing our experiences with each other. Perfect programming! Thank you GES!”