Confession: While the world might call a journey to a Sacred site a “pilgrimage,” I don’t think that necessarily makes the traveler a pilgrim.
After all, many tourists travel to the holy isle of Iona for day trips each summer without ever truly sinking into the wonders and mysteries that the isle has to offer, and many groups journey to Rome each year participating in religious rituals and checking sites off of their list without ever considering how the journey and its particularities might influence life upon their return.
While most see pilgrimage is a type of travel with a multitude of tourist websites popping up with any web search (many offering to guide you in air-conditioned buses each step of the way), practicing pilgrimage isn’t simply limited to travels abroad—ultimately, it’s a way of life.
Historically in religious contexts, ways of life have often been formalized as “Rules of Life,” with perhaps the most notable being the Rule of St. Benedict, established in the 6th century. Like many monastics before him seeking a more authentic way of living and being, particularly when it comes to matters of faith, Benedict left Roman society at the age of 14 to live a more intentional life. Later he founded his own monastic community, for which the Rule of St. Benedict became a guidepost. This Rule still serves as an anchor for Benedictine communities today, perhaps the most famous line being “Always we begin again”—a gracious invitation to view a Rule of Life not as a rigid set of rules to adhere to but instead an invitation to return to Divine presence and Sacred living time and time again.
The practice of living by a Rule of Life doesn’t need to be confined to the interior of a monastery or abbey, however. Rules of Life can be personal manifestos and reminders that can help cultivate meaning in our interior journeys and daily routines, too, as well as our communal lives. In establishing our own personal Rules of Life, however, it’s important to remember that a Rule of Life is not a measuring stick, representing a standard that you strive to achieve, but rather a basis from which to live. Some liken a Rule of Life to a trellis that helps a vine find its way—while the vine can still move freely, the guidance of the trellis allows the vine to truly flourish. Like a vine against a trellis, a Rule of Life is a set of values and principles that offers guidance and allows you to more fully align with your True Self and the Divine (the desire of any seeker and the destination of any search).
Rules of life not only express particular ways of life or flourishing but also ways to life, offering direction when we, like a rambling vine, have lost our way. Speaking to this in his book, Crafting a Rule of Life, Stephen A. Macchia says a Rule of Life is both descriptive and prescriptive: “A Rule of Life is descriptive in that it articulates our intentions and defines the ways in which we want to live,” he states. “When we fall short of these intentions, the Rule of Life becomes prescriptive, showing us how we can return to the path that we have set for ourselves and recapture our original vision.”
Whether at home or abroad, the seeker on a journey indeed follows a particular path, and a Rule of Life can help articulate the quest and align the seeker with the pilgrim’s way of life as they seek to engage the practice of pilgrimage. I’ve written a Rule of Life with the pilgrim in mind—Pilgrim Principles—which I share below. Of course, as with any Rule of Life, this is only a generalized framework; your own interpretation will be as unique as your own personal journey. Still, the Pilgrim Principles Rule of Life undoubtedly speaks to the essence of the pilgrim and the practice of pilgrimage, no matter where the journey leads.
Try these seven Principles on for size and see how they might, like a trellis, guide your journey and direct your path. The best part? They apply to our journeys both at home and abroad, establishing a way of life to accompany you each step of the way.
1. a pilgrim looks for the Sacred in the quotidian
The pilgrim knows they don’t have to journey to a far-off land to experience God; the Sacred can be found in the ordinary or “quotidian” each day with a little awareness and intention.
2. a pilgrim practices somatic spirituality
For the pilgrim, the practice of pilgrimage is first and foremost an outer physical experience that initiates an inner spiritual journey.
3. a pilgrim is a good steward of resources
The pilgrim isn’t a consumeristic tourist but a practical seeker who knows what they’ve been given and how to steward their resources wisely on the journey.
4. a pilgrim immerses themselves in culture
No matter where they find themselves, the pilgrim seeks to be fully present and is eager to learn from all that surrounds them.
5. a pilgrim establishes daily rhythms to ground themeselves
Whether at home or abroad, the pilgrim knows the value of having daily practices and touchstones to return to each day.
6. a pilgrim carries themselves with curiosity
Curiosity is an essential trait for the pilgrim, for, without curiosity, there would be no journey to begin with.
7. a pilgrim seeks to know their Inner Witness
Ultimately, the pilgrim’s journey is about connecting to their True Self and the Divine and that place of the Inner Witness where True Self and Divine meet.