Pilgrimage and Vacation – A Reflection by Connie Knapp


(Originally published on A Curious Faith: Explorations and meditations by Hudson River Presbyterians and friends)

Happy Fourth of July – the beginning of summer, and for many, the beginning of summer vacation.

The Thursday morning adult education class at the First Presbyterian Church of Yorktown has been studying Christianity and World Religions using a book by Adam Hamilton. One week we watched him on DVD and discussed a chapter in his book, and the next week we watched an episode of Sacred Journeys with Bruce Feiler.  We’ve been with American pilgrims at Lourdes, in Jerusalem, in Mecca and Medina, in Japan and in India.

These sacred journeys have made me think about vacations and how a vacation is different from a pilgrimage, and how some vacations can be pilgrimages. I’ve been thinking about this as we plan our weeklong vacation on Deer Isle in Maine. What do we take with us and what do we leave behind? What will be the same and what will be different? And perhaps most importantly, how will I be different, on vacation and when we come home from vacation?

Jean Wise, writing at HealthySpirituality.org, defines a pilgrimage as a trip where  “the intention is to be open to God and allow the experience to transform you.” By that definition this vacation will be part pilgrimage. I’ll get to sit on a rocky beach looking out over the East Penobscot Bay and watch the sunset. I’ll get to hear osprey soaring as he looks for dinner, and I’ll listen to the slap of the water on the rocks. If I’m really lucky I’ll get to see a heron hunting. Each of these events will bring me closer to God-that’s the pilgrimage part.

I’ll eat too many lobster rolls and read at least one good mystery and sleep past 6:30 AM and take afternoon naps. We’ll hike and kayak. That’s the vacation part.

And on the long car trip there and back we’ll listen to at least two audio books to help make the trip go smoothly. That’s the transition part-the part where I get ready to be changed, where I set my intention to leave the routine behind and open up to the present, to God, to whatever is happening right now. I’ll take some of the routine with me; writing morning pages, reading scripture and doing yoga stretches. But I’ll leave some of the routine behind; doing laundry, reading e-mail.

And on the way home we’ll transition back to the everyday. These transitions mark the beginning and the end of this special time. One of my favorite retreat leaders, Jen Louden, has us walk through the door into the retreat room the first day saying, “I am on retreat.” And we always spend time at the end of the retreat recognizing that we’re going back, and we say, “The retreat is over.”

So is this a vacation, a retreat, a pilgrimage? Yes! I’m not heading to Lourdes, or Jerusalem, or Mecca, or Japan or India, but I am intending to be open to God, to God in nature, to God in the silences that are so hard to find when I am home. So, in the words of Jean Wise, “Transforming an excursion into a pilgrimage offers a deeper level. Take a trip with God and see what he will teach us!”

Have a wonder-ful summer vacation!

~Connie Knapp