What’s the difference between a tourist and a pilgrim?
I think I first asked myself this question while studying in Cairo, Egypt during my senior year of college (half a lifetime ago, oh my). The semester included trips to many common destinations – the pyramids, a boat trip on the Nile, old mosques and churches. Amidst the tourists, I noticed what felt like another genre of visitor – those who approached these sites with a certain level of reverence, curiosity, and wonder. Those who came as learners, even worshipers, as if ready to be changed by the place and the stories it holds.
What to call this category of visitor? Pilgrim works well.
I have since increasingly realized that one doesn’t have to go half way around the world for a pilgrimage – although that’s pretty great too. The opportunity for pilgrimages abound. To visit a beautiful place, to reconnect with a friend, to step out your front door, to open your journal and write.
The opposite of pilgrim might simply be consumer. One also doesn’t have to go half way around the world to become a consumer of a curated experience. Those are waiting for us all the time. There’s an algorithm at work right now predicting your next consumer choice.
Lent follows the trajectory of Jesus’ life and ministry toward his final pilgrimage to Jerusalem, which resulted in his crucifixion on a Roman cross. Jesus did not fit well into algorithms. Neither does Easter.
“Pilgrimage” will serve as our theme throughout the season of Lent, which begins today. Like every Lent, it’s an invitation to deprogram our mind and heart, to open ourselves to reverence, curiosity, and wonder. To approach each day, each encounter, more like a pilgrim and less like a consumer. To be changed.
This season is an invitation into whatever kinds of pilgrimages you need to take next. Maybe a Lenten practice could be taking one significant pilgrimage per week throughout the seven-week season.
What and where is your next pilgrimage?