I came across this rather lovely sculpture called The Universal Pilgrim, when I was out and about in Exeter recently, and I have been pondering on it ever since.
I was thinking about the idea of a person who is described as a pilgrim – someone on a religious journey seeking enlightenment or revelation or forgiveness and the lifting of an inner burden. Often such people anticipated that the end point of their pilgrimage to a holy site, such as a cathedral, would be the place where they would find such spiritual things. Yet reflection on any such religious journey often shows that redemption happens along the way as we mix with other people and are challenged by attitudes in others and attitudes in ourselves that rubbing shoulders with other people often brings into focus. Such a pilgrim would often wear a scallop shell as a visible badge of their pilgrimage.
In the Middle Ages pilgrimages also occurred in order to give thanks for a miracle or to request a healing. And certainly many people in different religious traditions in the contemporary world still make a pilgrimage. I think there is also a more secular pilgrimage that is made to mark shocking deaths that will not be forgotten – where flowers are tied to fences or lampposts to mark a tragedy that concerns not just the family involved but that has raised bigger questions within a society in which such an event could have happened. Remembrance of those events give us an opportunity to think about the kind of people we are and what kind of society we need to foster in order for there to be peace and harmony.
In both these senses we are all pilgrims, whether it is linked to faith in a transcendent Being, or faith in the possibility of humans to grow and progress.
I was also thinking of a different kind of pilgrimage, one that is a journey but the journey is an interior one; an inner journey. Such an inner journey is no less arduous as it demands that we consciously face ourselves and aspects of ourselves that we have disliked and have hidden, or aspects of ourselves that were too marvellous and caused others to belittle us, so we repressed them in order to fit in. The inner journey to integrate all aspects of ourselves and live in balance and in loyalty to ourselves is a challenging one, but only such a journey will enable us to better bring our unique gift to the world. It is also a journey which holds the potential for our transformation. I am on that journey and I symbolically wear the badge of my pilgrimage.
What a delightful sculpture in Exeter, that got me thinking about all these things 🙂
[Some excellent authors writing about these things are Robert A Johnson and Bill Plotkins]