To be a pilgrim is to be a wanderer on an unbroken journey with a purpose, to a holy site or to somewhere of significance to us personally. We are all pilgrims, seeking to nurture our souls - an unbroken journey to the source of all life, it’s good to undertake such a journey.
A pilgrimage has a sacred intention. It's a path of wandering and wondering as you journey into relationship with life and perhaps the divine and bringing those two things together to find out something about your own spirituality.
We invite you to follow these Devon Pilgrim routes, but to walk in a different way. It's good to journey with others and share stories and community, but also spend some time walking in silence. When we're quiet and contemplative we see things, we hear things, we're present to life in a different kind of way.
To help you engage in the contemplative kind of walking you might want to consider some of the following ideas.
A Pilgrim Staff
The tradition of a pilgrim staff is an ancient one, but one that can still have significance today. Early pilgrims were identifiable by the staff they carried and they were often adorned with the pilgrim badges to show which pilgrim sites they had visited.
Today choosing to carry a pilgrim staff can be both practical and meaningful. A staff is useful when walking to clear a pathway, push back overgrown vegetation, to steady your way down a steep track or to help you get to the top. With each of these uses the pilgrim can use their staff as a prompt to reflect on their own inner journey; times when life feels unclear and overwhelming, out of control or unachievable. Your staff will support and help you in your pilgrimage journey. Be open to hearing the support and help you can call on in your life.
As you set out on your pilgrimage pick up a small stone from the ground near your starting point. Carry this stone with you in your pocket as you walk. Hold it, feel its edges and smooth surfaces as you walk. Notice its weight in your pockets and what it feels like to carry it. As you reach the end of your pilgrimage, or perhaps if there is a moment during your journey that is personally significant to you place your stone down and leave it. There may be stones that other pilgrims have left before, or you might choose to build a small cairn and place your stone as part of it, offering up a prayer or word of thanksgiving or confession as you do so.
Prayer Knot Bracelet
Using a simple knotted bracelet as an aid to focusing your thoughts or to offers prayers derives from many traditions. The traditional Catholic Rosary bracelet is probably the best known example within the Christian faith, Eastern religions use repeated phrases or mantras to aid meditation, but how many of us still think of tying a knot in a handkerchief if we still want to remember something?
A knotted bracelet can be whatever you choose to take from ancient traditions, or whatever you need it to be. You many already have a bracelet, or want to buy one. Perhaps consider what is around you though. Could you collect some wool snagged on the stone walls and slowly twist and pull this into a yarn skein as you prayer or spend time in contemplation.
You may decide to use a knotted bracelet to help you to pray. Sometimes believing that we need to find the ‘right’ words can be a real barrier to this. There are no right words. Keep your mind open and offer your thoughts as they tumble out of your head.
If you would like to use words that other have found helpful before you we offer a few below.
The ancient Orthodox Jesus Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God. Have mercy on me, a sinner.
Some words from the Methodist Covenant Prayer (full prayer can be found here)
Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
Words from a hymn by Edwin Hatch
Breathe on me breath of God, fill me with life anew. That I may love as you have loved, and do as you would do.
Keeping a Pilgrim Journal
Journaling your pilgrimage is whatever you want it to be. It is simply an expression of your own creativity, a reflection of the divine creator within you.
You may want to record the details of your journey, or the thoughts and ideas that came to you as you walked contemplatively along the path. Or perhaps you will be moved to artistic creation, painting or poetry.
Whatever you feel called to record is good. Don’t think about what you ‘should’ be doing, don’t judge yourself or what you create. Whatever you choose to journal is a record of this unique moment of your precious life. In years to come you may look back on it and realise that taking this time out for a contemplative pilgrimage journey had more impact on your life than you thought possible.
How to walk a Labyrinth
A labyrinth is an ancient Christian pilgrim path for walking prayerfully. Although it looks at first glance like a maze there is in fact only one route which winds itself round, in and out until you reach the centre point. You then turn and follow the same pathway out again.
Of course, how you choose to walk a labyrinth is entirely up to you and dependant on what your personal intentions and what you may be carrying within you. But we offer a few suggestions as to you might like to consider as you walk.
Take off your boots and socks – feel the grass beneath your feet. Focus for a moment of the connection between the soles of your feet and the ground that supports them. Consider your connectedness with that earth.
Breathe deeply and slowly – Before you start to walk take a few moments to slow your breathing. Focus on your breath. Is the air sharp and cold in your nose as you breathe in? Can you feel the warmth of the air you breathe out? Feel your belly rise and fall as you take each life giving breath.
Walk slowly – Mindfully notice each step as you take it. As you walk in to towards the centre start to focus your thoughts on the purpose of your labyrinth walk. Perhaps use each step to name something you wish to et go of, that might be holding you back from living your life as fully as you would wish.
Take whatever time you need at the centre – The centre of a labyrinth is a ‘thin’ place. A space to meet with God. A place to sit with your feelings. Take whatever time you need here. You may like to take a prayer bracelet or your journal with you and use them during this time. If there are others walking the labyrinth don’t feel pressured to move on. Everyone walking around you is on their own personal journey.
Returning to the World – When you are ready to walk the return path of the labyrinth it can be helpful to set an intention to focus on. This could be something personal you wish to change, or to offer your burdens to God. Try to distil what you have thought and felt so far into a short sentence or a few words. As you take each mindful step on your walk out it can be helpful to repeat this phrase to yourself, perhaps with the rhythm of your breathing.