In relation to my trip to the Holy Land, I have been thinking about the difference between pilgrimage and tourism. It may seem like an overly precious distinction but I find it to be important. Tourism isn’t necessarily a bad thing. To visit, to observe, to experience difference, to stimulate the local economy, this is tourism. As long as it is conducted respectfully, it can be a positive thing for both the tourists and the hosts. Pilgrimage is different. A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey, a journey undertaken with the intent of finding God, or at least finding some spiritual meaning in the landscape or space to which you travel. Often it is the journey itself where grace is found, and the pilgrim sees God in the face of their fellow travelers. On even the most interactive tour, tourism is still about observation in the end. Tourists, no matter how savvy, are outsiders looking in. In contrast, pilgrimage is about participation of the body, mind, and soul. In order to be a pilgrim you must be able to recognize and experience your spiritual home, whether as a destination, or along the journey itself. Pilgrimage is about finding that home even in an unfamiliar place surrounded by unfamiliar people. It can be a fleeting thing, but pilgrimage is a journey home. Paradoxically, you have to leave your home in order to find home, sometimes. But, even as pilgrimage implies movement (and even as movement or travel does not guarantee pilgrimage), pilgrimage is first and foremost a movement of the heart. Two people standing next to each other in the same place: one is a pilgrim and the other a tourist, and the only difference is an open heart.
I was not a pilgrim for the entire duration of my trip. Sometimes I was a big, goofy tourist. Ask Deborah about my legendary shopping trip in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem. Other times I truly found a spiritual home. There were places where I connected with God on many different levels of history, culture, liturgy, architecture, and mystery. I already wrote to you a little about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. That was certainly one of those places where I found home. Another spiritual home I found was Christ Church in Nazareth. Of all the dozens of churches we visited, Christ Church was home in a special way. It was a simple parish church in the Anglican Communion, not unlike our own parish church. Most of the liturgy was in Arabic, the language of the local congregation. But, I knew the liturgy because it was more or less our liturgy. The beauty of our shared prayer book heritage as Anglicans was evident. We even sang the same hymns, some of us in Arabic, some of us in English. Not all of our voices were tuned, but it sounded like a choir of angels. It sounded like heaven will sound, when as Scripture tells us, people of every tribe, and nation, and language will gather around the throne of God and sing praises to our Creator. After the Eucharist at Christ Church Nazareth we shared coffee hour because even in Israel, Anglicans/Episcopalians are going to do what we do best. It truly was home, even as this place, Church of the Holy Apostles, is truly home. We are united in prayer and purpose with our sisters and brothers in Nazareth, and in Nablus, and in Ramallah, and Cairo, and Moscow, and New Delhi, and Belgrade, and Mobile, Alabama. Whether we like it or not, or even know it or not, we are united with all Christians in all times and places. We may not agree on everything; we probably don’t even like each other sometimes. Yet, we share a spiritual home, and a spiritual purpose—to glorify God and to make God’s glory, and love, and justice known in God’s world. Of course, the spiritual unity of Christianity aside, Episcopalians (and Anglicans around the world) have the best coffee hour, hands down.