UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Soul Work

The Invitation: Find your Graceland

By Mardi Tindal

Pilgrimage "is the practice of intentional travel to a holy place, with the hope of experiencing a blessing: an encounter with God, with one’s faith tradition, or with those who have gone before us,” writes Anglican priest Rev. Lynne McNaughton in Touchstone journal.

Paul Simon puts it more poetically: “Poor boys and pilgrims with families. . . . We all will be received in Graceland.”

Among the pilgrims who have gone before us are Sarah, Abraham and Hagar, and Moses and Miriam: biblical ancestors who trusted God on the journey while also setting out to discover God anew.

These days, many people embark on pilgrimages, often to trace ancestral roots or to mark anniversaries. I suspect that pilgrimage is a way to make spiritual sense of our lives.

When I was working as director of the Five Oaks Centre, a United Church retreat facility in Paris, Ont., I made a pilgrimage to the island of Iona, Scotland. It was one way to mark Five Oaks’ historical relationship with the Iona Community, an ecumenical group of Christians with roots in sixth-century Irish monasticism. The island is often described as a “thin place” where the membrane between heaven and earth is as porous as it could possibly be. I began the journey skeptically: “How can some places be ‘thinner’ or more sacred than others?” But as I shifted my expectation toward blessing, I experienced a sense of coming home and an encounter with the Holy.

Do you have a place of pilgrimage? Think about it. Pilgrimage doesn’t always mean long-distance travel or medieval churches. Your place of pilgrimage may be a favourite trail, camp or retreat centre. The labyrinth inside Chartres Cathedral in France was created for people who wanted a pilgrimage but couldn’t manage a trip to Jerusalem. Your own backyard could be another Chartres.

For many people, journeying to celebrated holy places — such as Iona or Jerusalem — may add an extra level of meaning. Praying in places already saturated with the prayers of pilgrims who came before us gives us the sense that we are participants in the mysterious thinning between heaven and earth.

Kathy Galloway, a Scottish theologian and former leader of the Iona Community, writes that the value of pilgrimage is intrinsic. “It is something that is good to do because it is good to do. . . . And whether the context for pilgrimage is solitude or community, we will be drawn deeper into the mystery of God and the care of creation.”

Pilgrimage can also be about noticing points of connection between our inner and outer journeys. Tom Hunt, the maintenance co-ordinator for Five Oaks, was one of the first to respond to this column’s invitation in January to share one’s spiritual practices. He describes his daily rituals in caring for a place that also serves as a pilgrimage destination for others: “When I take time to walk on one of our trails along Whiteman’s Creek and the Grand River, I look around and simply observe my surroundings. I am always amazed when I sight a wild turkey, a great blue heron, an otter, beaver, deer and the majestic bald eagle . . . . I give my full attention and presence to this Sabbath time and become aware of God’s presence in nature and in me. My prayers are filled with gratitude and I am comforted by the knowledge that God’s creation is cared for by God and by my work.”

How are you an intentional pilgrim on your life journey? Where is your Graceland?

Mardi Tindal is a facilitator and mentor with the Center for Courage & Renewal and a former United Church moderator.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image