Pilgrim Feet in Popular Culture

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For the past fifteen years, at least, I’ve used my feet for hiking. They’ve carried me up rocky ascents and down stream beds and through meadows like the one Carrie Ingalls tumbles in during the TV credits of "Little House on the Prairie." My feet have been beat up by blisters and twists and nettles, and they’ve received enough rest to help me get up and keep going. Feet have always represented movement, and mine are no different. For as much care as they require, and odor they produce, and issues they are prone to having, I don’t take my feet for granted. That’s because I’m a pilgrim. We’re all pilgrims, really. Even if you’ve never visited a National Park or wandered into the outdoors beyond your mowed plot, we’re all searching, pursuing, longing…. Pilgrims are on a quest, sometimes external, sometimes internal, but always to somewhere.

One picture of a pilgrim

In 2000, I was gathering study materials for my group of college student leaders. We ran a backpacking program and needed summer reading to prepare us for the upcoming semester. That’s when I discovered Pilgrimage: A Handbook on Christian Growth by Richard Peace. I’m not much of a how-to reader and honestly can’t remember any of the details of the book. In fact, I may not have read beyond page 25. That’s where his description of a pilgrim ended. And that description begged for a place to reside in my memory. I want to quote it at length before introducing a Friday series on Pilgrimage that we’ll start here next week:
“For me, [the pilgrim] has always been a tall, gaunt individual: weather-hardened, rugged, possessing only what he could carry in his back pack. I see him on top of a ridge, resting on a wooden staff, looking out across the land with deep, penetrating eyes. He is a serious individual, interested only in what is real and true. He has little time for pretense. He is not, however, without humor. In fact, his laugh is rich, deep, and spontaneous.”
Is it okay that I picture myself here? Peace isn’t far off, really, though I feel strange claiming to fit this image. It may not resonate with you, but it’s a powerful one for me. In fact, I’m not sure any literary description of a person has ever been as simultaneously fitting and desirable. But wait, it gets better:
“He is on a journey. It is an important journey and one he has undertaken only after long and careful consideration. Now he is totally dedicated to it. He does not pursue his goal with frenzied haste. He moves deliberately and steadily, yet he seems to have ample time to enjoy what he encounters along the way – flowers, children, fresh grass, the sun, villagers, great libraries, and lonely caves.”
This bit about consideration, dedication and movement inspires me. Yet it’s the next part of the quote that really calls to me. I am already the tall, gaunt, serious individual who laughs and who has been in his share of caves and who (sometimes) lets books go overdue so that he can pay a fine that supports one of his favorite institutions. It’s the following that I am not yet. At least, not in the best sense:
“My pilgrim is a dedicated man. He has been called to persevere until he reaches his goal and he has willingly put all else aside to follow this solitary path. He knows he will not reach this goal quickly. In fact, he is on a pilgrimage that will take a lifetime. Yet there is no impatience in him. He simply keeps moving, buoyed by the sure sense that one day he will arrive and that then he will find treasure beyond imagining.” (17)

Pilgrim feet, American culture, and an Invitation

Here’s the thing about human pilgrimage. While we all hope to “find treasure beyond imagining,” our paths to get there are part wisdom and part foolishness. Our feet move us but only in response to the mix of instructions coming from our hearts and minds. The quests for success and financial freedom, for affirmation and acceptance, for health and knowledge, and for all the like, contain both fruitful and detrimental aspects. Beginning next Friday, August 13, and running through September 10, five members of High Calling Blogs will reflect on various cultural types of pilgrimage – from fitness programs to photography to film. I’m rather excited about this little journey and I hope you’ll join us. So grab your boots and staff, and if you have a pilgrimage journey of your own – wise or foolish – and would like to write about it, add your link to the comments section of any of the posts in this series. Photo by Patrick Dell. Used with permission. Post written by Sam Van Eman. Follow along with this Friday pilgrimage series: