It made me smile. According to my dictionary, the word ‘pilgrimage’ means ‘the journey of a pilgrim’! But that got me thinking … perhaps there’s something quite helpful there. Maybe what makes a journey a pilgrimage is neither its destination nor the route taken, but rather some quality of the person undertaking the journey. Perhaps what transforms a journey into a pilgrimage, whether an extended hike in the footsteps of saints, a wander in the park or a stroll down a crowded street, is the purpose and posture of the person. If he or she is open, seeking, expectant, engaging senses in a Godward orientation … if, in the words of Bunyan’s hymn, that is the ‘avowed intent’ … then he or she is a pilgrim and the journey, short or long, becomes a pilgrimage.

Travelling the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James), taking a few days along the Saint Magnus Way in Orkney or following Saint Cuthbert’s Way from Melrose down to Lindisfarne … are all possibilities most of us can only imagine undertaking very occasionally. However, transforming our many small journeys into fruitful mini pilgrimages is within reach of every one of us. What follows is a suggestion to enable you to do just that.

The transformation of a routine journey into something profound and nourishing begins with a pause … and a short prayer … nothing prescriptive, but perhaps a moment of stillness followed by something along the lines of, ‘Here I am Lord … offering myself afresh to you … please open my senses, my mind and heart to what you want to show me.’ This could be as you set off to the shop, begin your daily commute or step out on your regular dog walk. That moment of quietness and simple request, lead to the openness and expectancy that characterise pilgrimage.

Next, we begin. We may be walking, driving, cycling, travelling by public transport … but regardless of our mode of travel, we seek to ‘notice’, we pay attention. It was when Moses was going about his everyday work, tending his father-in-law’s sheep, that he ‘noticed’ a bush that appeared to be on fire, yet not being consumed. It caught his attention and, as he wondered about it, he was drawn into an encounter with the God of his ancestors.

Have you ever noticed how the word ‘saw’ recurs in John’s account of the resurrection (John 20:1-8)? First, we are told that Mary ‘saw that the stone was moved away’. Then we read that Simon Peter ‘bent down to look in … and saw the linen wrappings lying there’. Finally, we hear that ‘the other disciple … saw and believed’. These three instances of ‘saw’ translate three different Greek words. The first means that Mary saw with her eyes, ‘she noticed’ or ‘observed’. The second ‘saw’ is the word thereo, from which we get our word ‘theory’. Simon Peter not only noticed. He also wondered what it meant, began to construct theories as he reflected. The word translated as ‘saw and believed’ is a different word again. It contains the idea of ‘realising’ or ‘understanding’. It suggests that ‘the penny dropped’ for the ‘other disciple’.

So, there is a simple outline for a mini pilgrimage. Three ways of seeing (although this ‘seeing’ involves all the senses as well as intuition and mental processes): what do we notice, what does that cause us to wonder and (this might be some time later and certainly can’t be hurried) what do we realise?

Pause. Pray. Notice. Wonder. Realise.


Steve Aisthorpe, after many years as a Mission Development Worker for the Church of Scotland, is now Director of Kilmalieu, a retreat centre on the Ardgour peninsula, a place where guests are encouraged to be still, pray, notice, wonder and realise.