Tourists, Adventurers, and Pilgrims

When I began teaching the Bible and biblical principles to adults, I would tell class members that some people approach their faith journey as tourists on a group excursion who trust others to set the agenda, select the sites, and determine the schedule. The only information they get is from the perspective of the person they have trusted to guide them.
Our class would be for adventurers…..those who are inquisitive enough to set off on their own and discover the byways untraveled by tourists. They would discover the local color and interesting stories told by native people who know the history and traditions of the area.
Over the years I’ve been delighted to point people in that direction and watch as they set off on journeys of their own. Today I came across an article about the increase in “pilgrimage” tourism, the phenomenon of people visiting areas in order to explore the rich traditions and history of their own spirituality or that of the tourism destination.
As I have matured in my faith, my own adventuring has become more of a pilgrimage. As the writer of the article referenced below notes, “pilgrimage” conveys a seriousness of purpose and intensity that “tourist” doesn’t. Even adventurer is not necessarily as purposeful as “pilgrim.”
It reminds me of the subtleties observed in Matthew 7: 7-8 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
One who merely “asks” is at least curious and is hoping to gain information that satisfies the curiosity, much like a tourist, and generally looks to someone more experienced to provide them with information or gathers brochures for a self-guided tour. Once they’ve marked the venue off their bucket list, they are not likely to go again unless it has been an especially satisfying experience.
One who “seeks” is more inquisitive and looking for information more substantial than simply the obvious. Such inquisitive seekers are the adventurers among us. But the adventurer’s pursuit may be only a matter of satisfying a more voracious intellectual curiosity, too, or to proclaim the deeper “truths” discovered to others to make the cost of his own journey worthwhile or to have it applauded by the tourists who can use it, not necessarily to draw others into the journey with her.
It is those who arrive at a specific destination and “knock” purposefully, knowing what it is they desire and knowing where to find it who are the pilgrims. They know that there is something special that awaits them and they are willing to expend the effort to get to even remote locations and will ask questions of anyone along the way who can help direct them to that their goal. They greet other pilgrims along the way. They enjoy sharing the stories of their journey with one another and gladly share the resources they find so that others can be sustained in the journey, too.
Christ knew that there would be such degrees of desire for those who would follow him as disciples….the curious, the inquisitive, and the determined. He also knew that as the journey became longer and more difficult, some would fall away. But the reward for persevering in the journey would be well worth the effort. I am a pilgrim, a disciple determined to get to the place that will end all the journeys…..the destination where permanent residence with Christ makes no additional pilgrimage necessary. It is a place of peace and contentment in the presence of the Lord who blazed the trail, who journeys with me as a companion, and who welcomes me when I knock on the door.

A travel writer in a recent article offers this insight:
“The old-fashioned term “pilgrim” is worth reclaiming. The word conveys a seriousness of purpose and intensity that “tourist” doesn’t. The wounded and sorrowful are often ripe for a pilgrimage, as are those who’ve recently escaped the bonds of college, a failed marriage, or the demands of raising children.
I’ve come to recognize true pilgrims on my trips – they’re the ones who linger longest while touring cathedrals, looking upwards at the soaring architecture with wistful expressions on their faces, or who take off on the loneliest stretches of hiking trails with a determined air.
Pilgrimages can sneak up on us, too. Sometimes it’s only with the benefit of hindsight that we realize we’ve been pilgrims – a trip to re-trace your family’s roots, for example, can mean you return home a different person than when you left for the airport. You don’t have to bring along a prayer book to go on a pilgrimage; all that it takes is a heart open to transformation.”