“I want to see the elephants!”
My toddler’s wide eyes looked at me expectantly as we stepped into the zoo. Inwardly, I groaned. The elephants were at the furthest boundaries of the zoo, and I didn’t feel like walking that distance. Yet, I didn’t have a good excuse to deny my excited son the pleasure of seeing elephants, so we went forth. Several minutes later, we joined the throng of others who were slowly moving through the elephant exhibit. Adults and children, teenagers and elderly people — we had all embarked on a journey to see elephants. Together, we marveled at the beauty of these creatures.
During the days that followed, a question began to gnaw at my mind: If we are willing to walk great distances (in the heat of spring and summer) to see elephants, could we also make walking pilgrimages of faith?
In a crescendo of questions, conversations, and heartfelt desires, I soon found myself on a pilgrimage. A couple days before the feast of a particular saint, my young children and I walked to a local church that is dedicated to him. Rosaries in hand, we offered prayers and sacrifices as we slowly made our way through neighborhoods and down sidewalks of busy streets. We could have driven to the church in about five minutes; yet we walked for nearly an hour before we finally found ourselves joyously kneeling before the Eucharist.
Our society places a huge emphasis on comfort, convenience, and instant gratification, so a walking pilgrimage seems preposterous. Why walk when we can drive? We can pray in the car too, right? Indeed, walking to a church may not be feasible for everyone, and there are certainly wonderful, prayerful trips that can be made by car. However, the morning that my sons and I spent on a walking pilgrimage affected me more deeply than I thought it would.
As my young children and I walked to and from the church, we joined the throng of sinners and saints who have made pilgrimages of prayer over the centuries. As we walked down the streets of the Bible Belt with our rosaries in hand, we were visible witnesses of Catholicism’s beauty. As we grew weary, we offered our tired legs as a sacrifice of love and prayer. As we craned our necks, trying to catch a glimpse of the church’s tower in the distance, we experienced a longing to rest with our Eucharistic Lord.
In the weeks and months ahead, I encourage you to embark on your own pilgrimage. It may not seem as exotic as journeying on the Camino de Santiago, but it can still be deeply prayerful. If you don’t live in an area where you can walk to a church or a shrine, then perhaps you can drive partway to a location, then walk the last mile or two. Make it prayerful, and let it be a joyful time. After praying in the presence of Christ, perhaps you could even stop at an ice cream shop!
I’ve found that if I want to do something, I have a tendency to overplan it — and in my enthusiastic planning, I often complicate things and never get around to doing what I had initially hoped to do. So, if you want to make a pilgrimage, pick a time and then go. Don’t let yourself be held back by a desire to make every moment Instagram-worthy. It might be messy, and the toddler may start throwing meltdowns as you leave the neighborhood, but God will cherish all of your sacrifices and prayers.
Are we willing to let go of any excuses we have and make a prayerful pilgrimage?
Copyright 2019 AnneMarie Miller