One of my favorite authors, Eugene Peterson, writes of a young woman named Roxanne that he and his wife met while visiting Greece. Roxanne explained that while she was traveling in France she met a community of Christians and decided she would no longer continue her journey as a tourist but would turn her trip into a pilgrimage. (The Pastor, p.286)
Roxanne’s decision intrigues me. We’re all traveling through life. What’s the difference between seeing ourselves as a tourist or a pilgrim?
Tourists go about collecting experiences, souvenirs, and perhaps knowledge. They go here and there to see something, do something, or learn something. When my wife Diann and I visit a state park we intend on seeing the natural wonders by hiking the trails and learn all about what we see by reading the signs posted along the path.
The reading of the signs is more Diann’s idea than mine. She likes to learn all about what we’re looking at while I’d rather get on to the next bend in the trail. But then she was her high school class valedictorian and I was not, though I often argue her class had 18 students and mine had 48 and that I was smarter than 18 in my class too, OK, maybe I was.
While tourists collect experiences, souvenirs, and knowledge pilgrims are traveling to a holy place and expect to be changed. The Bible portrays people in pursuit of God and His will as pilgrims, not tourists. “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” (Psalm 84:5)
Any place is a holy place if it is a place where we encounter God and His working. This means to be a pilgrim of the Lord’s we don’t necessarily have to travel to a holy place, for God can be met and His will accomplished right where we are. Any place can be a holy place. Pilgrimage is not about going to some place new but becoming someone new. The tourist is looking for a change of scenery while the pilgrim is looking for a change in self.
In our journey through each day of our lives we, by default, play the tourist. We want to experience something new, collect the trinkets of possessions, and hope to learn a thing or two. But we can be something more than an accidental tourist going through life. We can be on a daily pilgrimage of drawing closer to God and becoming more the person He wants us to be. We don’t have to yearn to be somewhere else doing something else. We’re to be a pilgrim right where we are, we’re to be on a pilgrimage in the very place we find ourselves, a pilgrim in this, our place!
“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” (Jacob in Genesis 28:16)