The Holy Land has been called the Fifth Gospel, and after visiting there I now better understand why.
Visiting the sites where such great events took place was humbling and often emotional. Seeing and experiencing the land and geography made the stories come alive. Allowing imagination to see the people of old walking those same roads and hills brings one into closer contact with them.
The pilgrimage was led by Father Dwight Longenecker and I am grateful to him for allowing me along. If I lived in Greenville, SC I would certainly attend his parish.
One hears of the benefits of pilgrimage, but it seems one must experience it before one really understands, so to speak. People from across the globe and across cultures have all seen the spiritual benefits of pilgrimage. It has roots in the Old Testament. Places where God manifested himself in special ways became special places. Jacob built a memorial where he had a dream. Jerusalem was built where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac and Hebrews later made pilgrimages there for their feasts. Recognizing some places being special is in our modern system too. We preserve historical sites so people can visit and history can “come alive” within their hearts and minds. How much more will this happen at spots where God did something amazing?
It’s one thing to know and another to experience. We are both spirit and body; what we do in body affects the spirit and vice-versa. (On a simpler level we also do this by praying over meals. We include God in our corporeal actions, thereby sanctifying something mundane and making it special.)
I once listened to a talk by an Anglican professor who said modern tourism is pilgrimage with the spiritual dimension removed, thereby making it less of an experience. Pilgrimage was the “tourism” of yester-year but by including God made it a fuller experience by getting both body and spirit to participate.
Well, that’s my limited attempt at a theology of pilgrimage. I’m sure there are better explanations. At the very least, it is a natural desire within humanity. God must have put it there for a reason.