Geoffery Chaucer begins the classic Canterbury Tales with this observation:

When April with its sweet showers

has pierced the drought of March to the root

and bathed every rootlet in the liquid

by which the flower is engendered…

then
people have a strong desire to go on pilgrimages.[i]

When the change of seasons inspires wanderlust, many of us do want to return to the site of a special event in our past: our first home, an old school building, a church we once attended, etc. In Chaucer’s day, these pilgrimages had an overtly religious purpose. People returned to special sites to thank God for what happened there or visited the tomb of a venerated saint who inspired their faith. We don’t see many pilgrims doing that today.

Or do we? Perhaps we don’t go as part of a formal religious ritual, but such trips can have a deeply spiritual purpose for us.

We think we return to a favorite haunt to see how it has changed, but our real purpose is to see how we have changed. Does the place still evoke a sense of divine awe within us? Does it rekindle our fervor for God? Does it renew our confidence in God’s providence and guidance? If not, it’s not because our private shrine has changed. We have changed.

lydgatepilgrimsIn Chaucer’s day, spring pilgrims thanked God for enabling them to survive another winter, especially if it had brought life-threatening disease. Now each spring reminds us that change and growth are normal rhythms of life, so we don’t need to remain as we are, even if we are spiritually diseased or anemic. We can pause, reflect, pray, and resolve to change.

Had a good pilgrimage lately?

[1]Modernized version by Michael Murphy, accessed at http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/webcore/murphy/canterbury.