Thought for the Week

My THOUGHTS have recently been on pilgrimages as I have recently returned from one.

Last year at the Royal Highland Show I was privileged to be part of the Scottish Churches Rural group which launched its Manifesto for Action to promote pilgrimage routes across Scotland.

The declaration which I signed along with other church leaders and representatives states: “Rejoicing in the growth of interest in pilgrimage in both the churches and wider society, we as church and civic leaders commit to support in principle the development of pilgrimage and of pilgrim routes as spiritual and community led activities important to Scotland”. This got me thinking about our spiritual roots and connection of routes and pathways, and the importance of knowing where we have come from and the way we are going in our lives. So Quakers in Angus decided to rediscover our own roots and to organise a pilgrimage back to where Quakerism began, actually where my personal roots are, to Lancashire.

Pilgrimages are always journeys towards the past and usually to sacred places as an act of religious devotion. We think of Christian routes across Scotland including Iona, Whithorn and St Andrews, also the longer routes further afield such as Santiago de Compostela, or to Lourdes. We think of pilgrimages of other faiths such as Mecca for Muslims and others important to Sikhs and Hindus. Pilgrimages are something precious we hold in common.

Our pilgrimage over four days took in early meeting houses, climbing Pendle Hill where our founder George Fox saw a “great vision of peoples to be gathered” and ended with a visit to the Quaker tapestry exhibition in Kendal where the story of Quakerism is depicted in 74 embroidered panels.

Pilgrimages do not have to be physically greatly demanding, and just as well, as we had folk in our group in their 80s! A pilgrimage can be a short or lengthy time, and even a lifetime for some. Going back to our roots gives us a perspective of where we are at present and where we want to go in our lives and also if changes need to be made. I’m profoundly grateful that we do not have to suffer for our faith in this country in the way that early Christians, and in particular the first converts to Quakerism did, and still do in other countries.

I’ve also learned that pilgrims journeying together have a common goal but that the journey itself is more important than the destination. The gift we give ourselves when we decide to be pilgrims is the deliberate setting aside the time in our sometimes over-busy lives to reflect on our spiritual journey, and a time of potential joy, thanksgiving, discipline and discipleship. To embark on this special journey, sometimes with difficulties and hardships, is also a gift of God. Today, just one day, could be a pilgrimage for you.

Pamala McDougall

Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)