Bruce Feiler in The New Allure of Sacred Pilgrimages:
[…] (A) growing number of Americans (are) joining the worldwide boom in spiritual travel. This growth comes at a time when organized religion around the world is feeling threatened…Pilgrimage, meanwhile, is more popular than ever…the United Nations released a study finding that of every three tourists worldwide, one is a pilgrim, a total of 330 million people a year.
Last year I went on six of these pilgrimages to explore what this new phenomenon says about the future of faith. In addition to the trip to Lourdes, I bathed in the Ganges River along with 100 million people during the 55-day Kumbh Mela, trekked on a 700-mile Buddhist path in Japan, walked in the footsteps of prophets in Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem, and traveled with African-Americans to reclaim their roots in Nigeria. What I found is that pilgrimage is not merely ancillary to the modern spiritual existence. In an age of doubt and shifting beliefs, people are no longer willing to blindly accept the beliefs of their ancestors. They are insisting instead on choosing their own beliefs. A pilgrimage can be a central part of this effort.
…The most popular thing you hear in faith circles these days is, “I’m not religious — I’m spiritual.” Everyone is on a journey.
…It’s that feeling of taking control over one’s life that most affected the pilgrims I met. So much of religion as it’s been practiced for centuries has been largely passive. People receive a faith from their parents; they are herded into institutions they have no role in choosing; they spend much of their spiritual lives sitting inactively in buildings being lectured at from on high.
A pilgrimage reverses all of that. At its core, it’s a gesture of action. In a world in which more and more things are artificial and ephemeral, a sacred journey gives the pilgrim the chance to experience something both physical and real. And it provides seekers with an opportunity they may never have had: to confront their doubts and decide for themselves what they really believe.
As appealing as that destination may be, there’s only one way to achieve it. Get up off your sofa and go.
Read Bruce Feiler’s entire essay at The New Allure of Sacred Pilgrimages
Image Credit: Wayne Emde @ Pilgrimroads.com (shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage)