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Intention can turn any lockdown walk into pilgrimage, urges British Pilgrimage Trust

Pilgrimage is about traveling, about being a stranger in a strange land, according to the director. The pandemic flips that on its head.

Photo by Pexels/Creative Commons

(RNS) — You may be able to point to the exact moment this week or the next when the COVID-19 pandemic upended your everyday life. Put more succinctly: when taking a daily walk became for many of us a great escape, a way to get some fresh air and movement.

Some have made lockdown walks an institution: “walktail” parties in which neighbors, “quarantini” in hand, meet for outdoor, distanced social hours. Or artistic moments: looking for beauty and joy in the little things with camera in hand.


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For people of faith — or even no faith — looking for something more spiritual, Guy Hayward, director of the British Pilgrimage Trust, has a new idea: Turn those walks into a pilgrimage.

“In this time of introversion and quietness and winter, maybe it’s a time to go inward a bit more and find an intention now, just to slightly make the walks feel more purposeful and less of a chore,” Hayward told Religion News Service.

When it comes to pilgrimage, Hayward wrote on the trust’s website, “It’s not about the how long, but the how.”

Pilgrimage is about traveling, about being a stranger in a strange land, according to the director. The pandemic flips that on its head.

“Staying still is actually even more of a strange experience,” he said. “It’s like, how do you make yourself be a stranger in a place you know really, really well? How do you make yourself see it fresh and see it in a new way?”

Travel to famous sites such as Spain’s ancient Christian pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago, or the hajj to Mecca may not be possible at the moment, but Hayward suggested “micro-pilgrimages,” an idea, he pointed out, that dates at least to the 15th century: Margery Kempe, a British mystic from that era, described pilgrimages of a couple miles or less.

A quick Google search can turn up nearby holy places such as shrines or nature paths. For those in Great Britain, the British Pilgrimage Trust’s book “Britain’s Pilgrim Places” lists more than 600 such sites.

Apps with names like Camino for Good or Walking 4 Fun also can overlay a walk anywhere onto a more famous pilgrimage route virtually, providing maps, photos and videos of what the journey would look like along the way.

And it’s all about intention, which can be a question or “something we want to bring into our lives, or let go of,” Hayward wrote.

“Choose one intention from your many options, dedicate your daily walk to that purpose, and perhaps the world around you will start to resonate with it,” he added.

That can turn any walk, even a spin around the block, into a pilgrimage.

Lisa Deam, a North Carolina-based historian and author of the new book “3000 Miles to Jesus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life for Spiritual Seekers,” agrees.


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The idea of pilgrimage resonates at the moment, perhaps counterintuitively when travel is impossible for many, Deam said. But for pilgrims, both the journey and the destination are important.

And sometimes that destination is spiritual.

“Even though we kind of feel grounded, we’re still moving forward in our spiritual life,” she said. “As frustrated as we feel, we’re not really standing still, and I think that can be an encouragement.”