“…But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.”
Several years ago, an old friend accused me of being more of a tourist than a pilgrim. She was kind of joking, because we have a 40-year history of trying to take funny, unflattering, or compromising pictures of each other. (We went to Europe on a ‘study’ (haha!) abroad one summer, so there were plenty of opportunities.)
Now that we’re older, she doesn’t like to have her picture taken any more. “Why do you always have to take so many damn pictures?!?” she fussed at me.
To emphasize her point, she sent me a pamphlet with that title: Tourist or Pilgrim. I don’t remember exactly what it said, because she made me give it back to her. But I think I’ve retained the gist.
Throughout this summer’s dismantling, that phrase has echoed in my head. I’ve been contemplating the differences between the two appellations.
A tourist wants to be amused, see the sights, experience something new, take pictures of it all, and bring home souvenirs of the trip… all while staying in comfortable accommodations with ample food and drink.
He returns basically unchanged from his experience.
How is a pilgrim different?
I was surprised to discover that the word pilgrim evolved from peregrine. I’d always thought a peregrine was a type of falcon used in hunting during the Medieval period. But it derived from this:
1350–1400; Middle English < Latin peregrīnus foreign, derivative of peregrē abroad, literally, through (i.e., beyond the borders of) the field, equivalent to per- per- + -egr-, combining form of ager field + -ē adv. suffix; see -ine
A pilgrim longs to go beyond the borders of the known.
He is searching, peering into the haze, scanning the horizon, seeking, straining towards…
Something more… something better… something realer…
something that finally feels like home.
A restless heart always calls on towards the Light. Leaving behind the safe and familiar, a pilgrim takes a leap of faith and embarks upon a journey into change.
A pilgrim is a ‘stranger in a strange land, looking for a better country.’ (Hebrews 11:13-16)
A pilgrim must travel light, letting go of familiar, comforting things that would only weigh him down. He looks ahead, not behind, pressing on towards the goal of his pilgrimage.
To my chagrin, I realize that my friend’s accusation has much merit. I have acted like more of a tourist than a pilgrim. I have gone through life accumulating souvenirs.
Part of it is an attempt to stop the whirling wheel of time. I’ve been trying to hold on to the moments that are pouring out into eternity like salt from an open shaker. Attempting to preserve the moments, I’ve held on to tangible reminders of them. Letters, pictures, newspapers, scrapbooks. Mementoes. Stuff.
Way, way, way too much stuff.
At this point in my journey, all that stuff is weighing me down like an anvil. It makes it hard to breathe. It keeps me from feeling free.
All those pretty things I wanted to own… to hold on to… to keep close to me
have only served to slow down the process of pilgrimage.
They’ve become a heavy chain that tie me to the earth, forcing my focus down instead of up. Because the old adage is so true:
We are possessed by our possessions. Once we own something, it requires maintenance and care. And later, divesting and distribution.
How I wish I’d understood this when I was younger. While my husband was reading books like “The Freedom of Simplicity,” I was out buying art and antiques.
Gathering pretty things and souvenirs around me… "all the vain things that charm me most"... as if we can actually really own anything forever.
As a friend encouraged me the last week we were divesting the contents of my childhood home, “You never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul, do you?”
This is the saddest part: When our hands are so full and our lives are so crammed and our barns are so bulging, it’s difficult to receive the only things that are worth having.
The clutter of what we’ve clutched only serves to cloud our vision of eternity.
I want to start letting go of the things that keep me earthbound. The souvenirs. The stuff. The chains of the past, whether they’re beautiful golden chains or hard heavy iron ones. There is a liberty in the stripping down.
I want to be free to move forward. I don't want to be like Lot's wife, frozen by her inability to let go of the past and it's comforts.
I want to be ready to go when I'm called.
“Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.”