When Faith and I first moved to Holy Island, the cottage garden had been neglected for some time. The result was a wilderness of weeds. However, with the help of friends we consistently started to uncover the structure that was already there. We were amazed to find a beautiful, framework of rockeries, shrubs and paths that had lovingly been laid down in a previous generation. We literally uncovered the ancient paths.

It seems to me that pilgrimage is a rediscovery of the ancient ways. All across the UK, old routes are being re-opened and renewed. Places like the St Cuthbert Way from Melrose to Holy Island, Columba’s Way in Argyll and the new Fife Pilgrim Way are attracting a variety of both Christians and seekers. There is even a television programme called Pilgrimage where celebrities of different faiths and none “are stepping in ancient footsteps on a spiritual journey.”

Three years ago, Faith and I felt a call to Holy Island to be part of a new monastic movement that is inspired by the Celtic Saints. As a former church planter, pastor, and leadership coach, I had been drawn into a personal journal of discovery, seeking a more holistic way for the 21st century. As part of my role on Holy Island, I have many conversations with people who are completing the St Cuthbert Way, and they all describe their journey in similar terms. What are the common themes of pilgrimage?

First of all, it is about disconnection and reconnection. In our busy 24/7 consumer culture we are all suffering from over-connection to social media, our mobile phones and email. There is now even a fear called nomophobia which is the anxiety of not having a working mobile phone.

Pilgrimage, however, is a wonderful way to detox from over-connection to the multitude of demanding voices. As we allow silence to infiltrate our soul, we begin to listen to other voices, and none. We begin to mindfully observe what is around us as we walk through the countryside. Bird song is now audible, the distant horizon is welcomed rather than being missed because of the immediate demands in front of us. Our eyes look up and in. There is a physical topography as well as the landscape of the soul.

The second benefit of pilgrimage is perspective. We see bigger. As you stand on top of the Cheviots on the St Cuthbert Way, imagining following the footsteps of other pilgrims, the big skies open up, with dramatic cloudscapes dancing across the horizon. The Scottish Borders are famous for their dark skies and starry nights because of a lack of light pollution, and pilgrimage seems to do the same, it changes how we see things. Our circumstances may not have changed but our perspective has.

The third benefit is starting and completing something. Too many of us never get to experience this. Pilgrimage has a starting and end point. For church leaders especially this is a therapeutic, even cathartic moment. Although the journey and the walking are a key part of the process, so too are the beginning and the end. It brings a sense of ‘well done.’

When Abraham was called to leave his homeland and “go to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1-2) he was promised a blessing as a pilgrim. I suspect that in our post-modern world we are returning to these ancient paths for a similar reason, to reconnect to the God of Abraham, the One who blesses those on a journey. Perhaps you might consider pilgrimage as part of your spiritual rhythms and enjoy both the physical and spiritual benefits.

By Rev Scott Brennan