I’ve always loved the idea of a pilgrimage. Whether it’s a spiritual one, or just revisiting old childhood haunts, a pilgrimage is a journey of the heart, mind, and body.
I’ve recently read two fictional pilgrimages. “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce, tells the story of Harold, who takes an unintentional pilgrimage to see his old friend Queenie, walking from his small town in Cornwall 600 miles north to the Scottish border. In “The Little Paris Bookshop” by Nina George, Jean Perdu, with little forethought but immersed in his grief for his beloved Manon, pushes his floating “book apothecary” (bookshop) into the waters of the Seine heading to Provence. Both books revolve around men who have allowed themselves to not fully enjoy life because of tragedy, and each book finds the men rediscovering love, often which was right at home. In the meantime, they pick up characters along the way who help them to navigate the matters of the heart.
One of my favorite non-fiction books about pilgrimages is Rosemary Mahoney’s “The Singular Pilgrim: Travels on Sacred Ground.” In this beautifully written and lyrical book, Mahoney undertakes six pilgrimages: visiting an Anglican shrine to Saint Mary in Walsingham, England; walking the five-hundred-mile Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain; braving the icy bathwater at Lourdes; rowing alone across the Sea of Galilee to spend a night camped below the Golan Heights; viewing Varanasi, India’s holiest city, from a rubber raft on the Ganges; soldiering barefoot through the three-day penitential Catholic pilgrimage, known as Saint Patrick’s Purgatory, on Ireland’s Station Island. We can all live vicariously through her adventures, until the time comes for us to make any of these pilgrimages ourselves, if we so choose.
Finally, in this season of Lent, I’m enjoying “Pilgrim Road: A Benedictine Journey through Lent,” by Albert Holtz. Holtz, a Benedictine monk from Newark, New Jersey, was given a sabbatical year in which he traveled throughout fifteen countries, mostly in Europe. This book is based on the journal he kept during his travels. Holtz intertwines stories from his journeys with lessons for life.