We are speechless in wonder at the orderly annual migrations of geese, humming birds, monarchbutterflies, salmon, and whales crossing international boundaries and braving perilous obstaclesto return to ancient spawning-breeding-nesting grounds. What drives them inexorablyhomeward to their origins? What is the void that must be filled for life to be completed? Isthere a corresponding need and longing in our human spirits?

My children—Randal, Nancy, Jenny—used to smile at each other knowingly and wait alertly forthe moment, the location, when at the wheel of our 1960 Chevy I would become aware that I hadsteadily increased my speed from 60 to 80 mph on our homeward way to Meade, Kansas, to visitfamily and for me to touch once more the soil where I did most of my growing up. Childrenwould laugh, and Carol at my side obligingly recited, in Low German, The horse goes faster thenearer it gets home. I back off a bit embarrassed, a bit amused.

Heimweh, longing for at-homeness, plays most prominently in the story of our ancestors who in1880-84 participated in that uncommon migration eastward from the Molotschna and Am Traktcolonies in Russia to the ancient and mystical cultures of the Silk Road cities Tashkent,Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva to find, at last, their own place just right in the valley of loveand delight. (Shaker folk song.)

This driving homesickness (Heimweh) had two very important and distinguishable elements: (1)to find a physical place, a new homeland to own and improve, to build enduring community, tobe a people of God committed to truth and peace, following the way of Christ; and (2) to becomethe special, prized, chosen spiritual community referred to in holy whispers as the Bride ofChrist.

I do not understand myself well without attention to this personal history and its roots in thenarratives of my ancestors.

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A pilgrimage is an intentional physical visit to a geographical place where historical events oflife-shaping significance have their roots. Such events are a key to the legend and self narrativethrough which we name and identify ourselves. Such sites/events are forces in the shaping ofour personalities, influencing our choices, forming our world view, and shaping the burdens wemake our own. Yet for all that, they remain a source of deep mystery and lure. They are dots onour journey and enable us to connect the dots of our trails and to imagine our futures astrajectories. These are places and events that cannot be ignored or denied without cost.

Healing consists in events that allow the brain's awesome central station actively to reconnectand reintegrate tissues, organs, memories, and learnings of the body that have been injured,dislocated, disconnected, or diseased and malfunctioning. Healing is all about restoration andthe recovery of wholeness, balance, bodies, minds, and souls.

What are likely conditions of pilgrimages that foster such wholeness?

  1. An awareness of a hunger and longing, perhaps of brokenness, emptiness, or disjunctionwithin. It may be awareness of ignorance, lack of a mental map, paucity of images. It may be avague, or even acute, awareness of deliberate silence and secrecy about people and keyevents—rumored but never discussed and incorporated. Or, if incorporated, built into the tellingnarrative as pre-scripted canned/sealed elements whose contents are labeled but not openable forexamination or reinterpretation.
  2. By contrast, some healing pilgrimages are undertaken because significant others on theirjourneys experienced healing, joys, satisfaction, deepening of their spirit. Their testamentsignite our own curiosities and awaken compassion in us. So, whether by awareness of emptinessand illness in us or by way of others' witness to joys and meanings, our curiosities andcompassions unite to give us courage to visit and reclaim un-annexed events in our lives.
  3. As pilgrims we experience vulnerability to the uncertainties of the unknowns in ourselvesas well as the unpredictables in the places/events to be revisited. Without the courage of self-exposure, risk, and vulnerability, our pilgrimage is not likely to bring much healing or deepeningof the spirit.
  4. Successful pilgrims reveal a valorous commitment to integrity that characterizes theirjourney toward wholeness. Pre-judged, pre-conceived, doctrinal meanings and categories mustsurrender to the courageous decision that no unexaminable second-hand meanings areadequate foundations and that their own experiences/events must remain open-ended rather thanclosed so that the emerging newness will become authentically formed from within. Suchpilgrims are amused by contrived interpretations which they discount with grace.
  5. Successful pilgrims seek and find freedom to see, to think, to question, to becomeengaged without fear. They look for and enjoy encounters wherever they go. They eagerly lookfor unplanned, serendipitous events to become rich elements of the discovery journey—whetherthe beautiful, unimaginable events that bud and flower brilliantly or the vexatious, troublesome,getting-in-the-way experiences of travel and daily chores that reveal their inner darknesses. They know that the cost of their freedom is full responsibility.
  6. Powerful, formative pilgrimage is itself in its entirety a ritual of discoveringness andfaith embrace. It is almost certain that on the authentic journey there will also be moments inwhich a revealing, enlightening, serendipitous moment demands attention and seeks to beritualized for commemoration and preservation. A ritual is a physical action flowing form deepwithin and having a spontaneous, unguarded quality to it which gives it authentic meaning. Or itmay be an old, well-rehearsed, and frequently enacted gesture which is suddenly, brilliantlyflooded with new meaning. The ritual may also have been imagined, invested, and contemplatedin advance but with the location and the moment for its expression all unknown. Healingpilgrimage is thus marked and blessed with rituals and symbol—not to close the book but tokeep it openable.
  7. Healing pilgrimages strongly feature the paradox that while new data and new insightsadd in an exponential manner to the complexity, variety, and eternal branchingness of life, thatdynamic movement is always also toward unity, connectedness, and ultimate singularity. Thisstrange paradoxical light of simultaneous complexification and singularity streams, apparently,from the Original Source, a joyous pay-off of real faith.

The story of Jesus and the woman from Sychar at Jacob's well in Samaria (John 4) is a gloriousexample of complexification and singularity invoking a new self-narrative so transforming that itchanged forever a whole community!

Likewise also, Rollo May's story of a healed woman is the same. The 22-year-old had an utterlydestructive, life-quenching self-narrative she could never escape: I am an illegitimate child. Then, one day after another hour with her therapist when she was walking alone under theelevated in New York City she throbbed within her the deadly song once more with every step. Suddenly she was stopped in her tracks: Child? I'm not a child; I'm 22 years old. With theall consuming destructive sentence now interrupted by the deletion of child she staggered afew more steps before being stopped in her tracks and this deadly narrative—hung mid-air—once more: Illegitimate? That has something to do with being born; I'm 22 years old. That left, finally, only the ubiquitous, deeply healing, profoundly connecting universal healingrealization: I Am. Such I Am events include and embrace everything in the pure light ofbelovedness.

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A spiritual pilgrimage is not limited to far off Jerusalem, Mecca, Goshen, Hillsboro, or Khiva. Itcan also be our experience walking to the farthest corner of the old pasture; or sitting in silencein the sanctuary where we said yes to God; walking a mile to where the one-room HarmonySchool House once stood; revisiting a sacred rock in the mountains where we promised ourhearts and lives; or perhaps, re-reading old familiar personal treasuries where deepenedmeanings and insights suddenly, vividly brighten the night-times of our souls. Spiritualpilgrimage has no boundaries.