“People of faith have periodically interrupted their normal lives with an intentional experience of discomfort, dislocation and intensity — a kind of reenactment of the original journey of Abraham, by engaging in voluntary pilgrimage.”
from Brian McLaren’s “Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices”
Tomorrow, you’ll meet Brian McLaren in our in-depth Conversation about the remarkable series of books he’s kicking off this summer — but here’s a simple way to demonstrate the timely nature of this series of books about ancient practices.
Walk into a Borders or Barnes and Noble bookstore and try to find a book about pilgrimage as a spiritual practice. Look really hard! I just did this myself and could only find books with items in the index that generally pointed toward: “Pilgrimage in Islam.”
I know that there are other books available online about individual pilgrimage routes and destinations — and we do recommend books about sacred sites around the world — but most of these books aren’t readily available on bookstore shelves.
Despite this apparent scarcity of books on pilgrimage, millions of people from many faiths make pilgrimages each year. So, what do you know about this timeless spiritual yearning?
1.) Nearly all Americans have encountered at least the title of “The Canterbury Tales,” the 14th-Century story that many students still are required to sample in school. What was this “Canterbury” that these pilgrims were trying to reach in the story by Chaucer?
A. A mythical land with streets of gold
B. A Crusader kingdom established near Jerusalem
C. A cathedral with a shrine to a martyred archbishop
2.) In the heart of Jerusalem for nearly 2,000 years, Christians have made pilgrimages to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (the main doors to the church are shown in the photo below). Why do pilgrims visit? According to Christian tradition …
A. It’s the church where Jesus personally was the pastor
B. It’s the oldest Christian church in the world
C. It marks the spots where Jesus was crucified and buried
3.) The world’s largest pilgrimage also is the world’s largest religious event — period. It doesn’t happen every year, but when it does — what’s the country where these millions of pilgrims congregate?
4.) Muslims are called upon by their faith to at least try to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Where is it located?
C. Saudi Arabia
5.) We won’t ask you where Medjugorje is situated, because it’s in that war-torn area of eastern Europe where lines have been redrawn. Currently, its in the republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The question here is: What group of people mainly make this pilgrimage?
6.) Two of these three responses are almost universally a part of the pilgrimage experience, across all faiths. One may occasionally be a part of the pilgrimage experience, but it isn’t consider a universal experience of pilgrimage. Which answer doesn’t fit?
A. In addition to reaching a special place, a huge part of the pilgrimage experience is leaving behind one’s everyday world.
B. Pilgrims wear special clothing.
C. Pilgrims follow a special diet.
7.) Muslim pilgrims circle a shrine in Mecca. Many Christian pilgrimages also involve walking in patterns, including Stations of the Cross. What do Buddhist pilgrims walk around?
A. Trees in the forest.
B. A series of sacred islands in India.
C. Mounds containing relics of the Buddha.
8.) Early this week, Jews are marking Shavuot, one of the ancient festivals also including Passover that traditionally were known as pilgrimage festivals. What is Shavuot?
A. A commemoration of victory over the Philistines, when David killed Goliath.
B. A festival recalling Sampson’s faith in his final defiant victory, despite terrible odds.
C. An ancient “first fruits” festival, also recalling the gift of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.
9.) One of the most successful pilgrims in history was later known simply as Helena. Who was she?
A. A silent-movie star who, before World War I, saved sacred relics in central Europe that would have been destroyed.
B. The queen of Egypt who historians now say made a pilgrimage across China even before Marco Polo made his trip.
C. The mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine who visited Jerusalem to save Christian holy sites.
10.) One of the noblest acts in the history of pilgrimage was performed by a Muslim leader who visited Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher. What did he do?
A. Rebuilt the church after a terrible fire.
B. Gave the church a gilded icon that, to this day, is among its treasures.
C. Declined an invitation to pray in the church, so Muslims would not transform the church into a Muslim place of pilgrimage.
Got all the answers?
IF you are reading the online version of today’s quiz, click on the link below to see the answers pop up. If not — don’t peek until you’re ready!
1.) C. Especially after Thomas Beckett was murdered there in the 12th Century and the king later performed penance there, Canterbury Cathedral drew countless pilgrims. It still is considered a global center for the Anglican Communion and, occasionally, you’ll hear people involved in ecumenical movements with Anglicans described as “pilgrims to Canterbury.”
2.) C. There are long-running disputes about the location of Jesus death and burial. In the modern era, many pilgrims have visited a garden-like tomb outside the walls of “old” Jerusalem, called the Garden Tomb. But there’s still a scholarly consensus that the Holy Sepulcher may, indeed, mark the spots of crucifixion and burial.
3.) C. It’s in India. The name in English is spelled various ways, but it’s often spelled, Kumbh Mela. (The photo at right is part of a Kumbh Mela procession.) There is a complex cycle of these pilgrimages, but once every 12 years there is a Great Kumbh Mela that can draw more than 50 million people. It’s also the greatest periodic movement of people on the face of the earth.
4.) C. Saudi Arabia. It’s also forbidden for non-Muslims to visit the holy city — although there have been infamous cases of Western travelers, especially in earlier centuries, sneaking into Mecca. If you’re not Muslim and you got this question wrong, one reason is that there’s relatively little coverage of the Hajj in American media. Here’s a story we published during the last Hajj about this problem.
5.) C. Christians and primarily Catholics, although many other pilgrims have journeyed to the spot where six young people reported seeing Mary, the mother of Jesus, appear to them in 1981.
6.) C. There are some food traditions associated with some pilgrimage rituals — but scholars who have studied the interfaith breadth of the experience say that A and B are almost universal elements in pilgrimage. The clothing — whether special garb or symbols worn prominently on the clothing — is meant to publicly mark the pilgrims and also, in some cases, to remove social barriers between pilgrims.
7.) C. Americans tend to think of Catholics or Orthodox Christians, when the subject of sacred relics is mentioned. But this is also part of some Buddhist traditions. In January, I was in Bangkok, which is home to some of the most beautiful stupas (mound-shaped reliquaries to the Buddha). I took the photo that opened today’s quiz in Bangkok.
8.) C. Most Americans who’ve seen “The Ten Commandments” — or who are Christian and know their Lenten stories — understand something about Passover. But fewer Americans know much about the other Jewish pilgrimage festivals. In the ancient world, these were times when observant Jews were expected to pay a visit to the Temple in Jerusalem.
9.) C. Yes, St. Helena racked up more successes than virtually any other pilgrim in world history. In addition to — traditional sources say — finding “the true cross,” she also moved around various spots in the region — traditional sources say — discovering and marking sacred sites in Jesus’ life.
10.) C. The Caliph Umar is a sometimes controversial figure in Islam — but this story about his arrival in Jerusalem seems to be shared almost universally, even by Christians who love the Holy Sepulcher church.
How’d you do?
Tell us what you think! You can click on the “Comment” link at the end of the online version of this story. Or, you can Email ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm.
AND FOR MORE STORIES RELATED TO THIS WEEK’S SERIES …
We’ve got an in-depth Conversation With Phyllis Tickle, the chief architect of the new series of books on ancient practices. The interview with Phyllis focuses on a recent book she wrote about the words of Jesus in the Christian gospels.
This week, we started our four-day series on Monday with a look at
some of the dangers we’re facing in our diversity. We examined the resurfacing of ugly stereotypes in a climate that’s electric with anxieties about the world’s future.
On Wednesday, we published an extended Conversation With Brian McLaren, who Phyllis chose to write the kick-off volume in her series.