Ideally, a human life should be a constant pilgrimage of discovery. The most exciting discoveries happen at the frontiers. When you come to know something new, you come closer to yourself and to the world. Discovery enlarges and refines your sensibility. When you discover something, you transfigure some of the forsakenness of the world.
John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong
Periodically, I lead or help lead what I call “pilgrimages from below”: to the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site (and downtown Denver on a Sand Creek-related driving tour), and to Broomfield-area sites to highlight “suburban poverty.”
I’ve always loved history, but I started visiting significant historical sites when I was in college, including the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland.
Later, while serving as a campus minister, I made pilgrimage on El Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain, to Gettysburg, Pa., to Lindisfarne, also known as Holy Island, off the northeast coast of England, and to the border between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
More recently, I’ve visited Ludlow, Colo., near Trinidad, where militia killed two dozen miners and their family members during a 1914 strike. I’ve journeyed with friends to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota, and to the Eastern Colorado site of the Granada Relocation Center, also known as Amache, a WWII Japanese-American internment camp.
In 2015, I made pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Israel and Palestine. I could hardly believe it when I waded in the Sea of Galilee and walked the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.
I love to travel, but making pilgrimage is much more than a hobby to me. It’s part of who I am and what I do as a minister of community service. The whole experience — the preparation for a trip, the journey to a site, the time I spend there and the journey home — helps me to remember. Whether what happened in a particular place is amazing and hopeful or shocking and terrible, or all of the above at the same time, it’s important to me, crucial even, to remember, to acknowledge and to memorialize the past so I can live well in the present and work toward a better future for myself, my family and my neighbors.
In particular, I believe “pilgrimage from below” to places of tragedy is important because it re-calibrates our collective memory, which tends to trumpet our light while ignoring or minimizing our shadow. I lead pilgrimage experiences in Broomfield and at Sand Creek because of their geographic proximity to my home, but I dream of establishing memorials farther afield, especially at Wounded Knee, S.D., and Deir Yassin in Israel.
Celtic spirituality often speaks of “thin places,” where the boundary between the world as we know it and the “otherworld” is more or less transparent. Historian Mircea Eliade spoke of experiences of thin places as hierophanies, or manifestations of the sacred. Put another way, we make pilgrimage to encounter God in a new way, because to do so in the midst of our everyday lives proves elusive. The interplay of immanence and transcendence in the act of pilgrimage proves crucial here, for the journey frees us as much as or more than our arrival at and departure from any particular destination. We leave home to find our true home.