Pilgrim Poet

by joelmckerrow


There are two types of travellers. 

There are tourists and there are pilgrims.

Or perhaps it is best to say the traveller is at times a pilgrim and is inevitably, at times, a tourist. Or to be even more specific, the traveller is always a tourist who at times becomes a pilgrim. Each new day filled with decisions about the way one chooses to face the world. 

The tourist is a consumer of culture. This is not a bad thing. Many families rely on tourism for their bread and butter. The tourist comes to a new location and seeks to enjoy the sights and sounds and tastes of that culture.

Yet, I am slowly learning there is a deeper way to move through the world.  

There is a certain kind of knowledge that one can only gain through pilgrimage. Through what may be called the ‘ritualistic journey’. That is a journey filled with ritual, with the sacred art of taking actions and imbuing them with meaning. Filling the vessel of the everyday with sacred things. The pilgrim is one who takes their travels and imbues them with meaning. Be it their small daily experiences of meandering through Times Square in New York, or placing ones hand upon a thousand year old grandfather redwood in a grove in California, or reading Ginsburg’s ‘Howl’ at City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, or performing poetry at the Nuyorican Cafe in New York City, or drinking water from a spring that flows through the Rocky mountains. All of these are actions filled with meaning. Or be it the pilgrims larger journey back to their ancestral roots in Scotland, to stand at the grave of their great, great, great, great grandfather, to stand before the Celtic Cross on Iona island. 

The pilgrim is the traveller who chooses not to walk blind through this world. To journey well is to see the world beyond the world. To discover a deeper reality. Pilgrimage challenges ones ordinary way of seeing the world. The habitual laziness of our attention needs to be shaken from its rigidity. To travel in search of the sacred. To sense the soul of the land and be transformed by ones connection with it. The journey, therefore, does not take you from this reality into another, it is rather the journey to see this very earthly reality in a transformed way. To see it with a new set of lenses. In this way, it is not the external space that changes on pilgrimage, it is the internal space. The space that lies between our eyes and those deep places within. The path is, therefore, both outward and inward at the same.

My desire is to be such a ‘present’ traveller. To somehow move differently through this world. To not just be a tourist. The purpose is to come to attention and so to see through the veil of this world to something deeper and thus to fall hard into the sacred mystery. The  path is to seek to be present in each moment. To move beyond being a tourist. To become a pilgrim.