By Graham Glover –
My wife and I recently returned from a trip to our nation’s capitol, Washington, DC. We’ve both been several times before, but every visit there is different and equally impressive.
Among other things, this trip allowed us to visit several places for the first time: The White House, FDRs monument, MLKs monument, and they were all incredible places to see. Regardless of who occupies the Oval Office, the White House remains one of the great symbols of freedom throughout the world. No matter what you thought of his New Deal, Franklin Roosevelt is one of America’s most influential presidents. And whether or not you shared his theological leanings, there are few people who have done as much for civil rights as the Rev. Martin Luther King. We were honored to visit all of these places and will remember them fondly for years to come.
But this will by no means be our last trip to DC. We will bring our children there soon and I hope come back several times during our lifetime. Our nation has many historically significant places to visit, but nothing defines the essence of our democratic republic like Washington DC. One can learn a lot about DC without ever visiting, but to see the monuments and government buildings of DC in person is something I encourage all of my fellow citizens to experience.
Which brings me to my point: it’s time for you to take a pilgrimage. Typically, we think of a pilgrimage in a religious sense. A trip to the Holy Land, for example, might be the highest form of a pilgrimage that comes to mind. And I’m sure such a trip would be even more moving than my recent trip to DC. To visit Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and other sacred sites would bring the stories of our faith to light in ways that reading about them or watching shows on them simply cannot. While stationed in Germany, my family and I made several visits to famous Luther sites. Here we were able to see the places that the man whose church my denomination is named after spent countless hours writing his theological treatises that continue to define Lutheranism.
But a pilgrimage need not be a religious trip. A pilgrimage could even be as simple as a trip to your family’s homestead, the place where you were born, or some other location that has a role in defining who you are. The point is that a pilgrimage allows you to see, to experience, and to fully partake in a significant place. TV gives you live footage. The internet gives you up to the minute data. Books give you pictures and stories. But nothing compares to seeing something in person. Nothing beats a pilgrimage.
I think we have lost the appreciation of the visual. I know, we are constantly in front of a computer screen, television set, smart phone, or tablet, but this is not what I’m talking about. These are facades. They might look real. They may feel real. But they most assuredly are not. To see something in person allows one an experience that ideally will give you a more thorough understanding and appreciation of what is in front of you. This is why pilgrimages matter.
They allow you to see and believe. They allow you to taste and see. They allow you to be in the presence of that which matters.
Please don’t cheapen what I’m saying by thinking that being a perpetual tourist is all I’m commending. I like to travel as much as anyone, but vacations are not pilgrimages. Seeing cool things are not what I have in mind. Rather, I’m suggesting that you find a place (or places) that hold a significant value for your faith, your family, and/or your politics. Then go visit these places. If you are able, visit them again. And while you visit them, allow yourself to develop a newfound appreciation for them. Learn from these places. Watch, listen, and partake – things you can only do in person. Things you can only do on a pilgrimage.