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How to travel with intention

Thinking about a pilgrimage? Heather Prince Doss recommends several books that help you move beyond tourism and travel with spiritual intention.

Photo by Mor Shani on Unsplash

A pilgrimage is a journey with a spiritual intention, but most of us travel like tourists — either trying to see as much as possible or else trying to disconnect from everything, especially the stressors we left behind at home. If you’re traveling this summer, or just dreaming about it, I recommend the following books. In my work coordinating pilgrimages, I’ve found these reads help us to think like a pilgrim and integrate our learnings into our lives when we get home.

For How to Travel Like a Pilgrim

The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau

While this book doesn’t offer an explicitly Christian understanding of pilgrimage, it does tap into the rich history of pilgrimage in the Christian tradition and the universal human longing to connect with the sacred through the practice of travel. Cousineau subtitles his book for “seekers” and explains his meaning from his own experience as a young adult about to visit the great pyramids of Egypt: “I was seeking not just a surfeit of impressions, the casualty of modern travel, but a glimpse of an ancient mystery.” The updated edition contains chapters about stages of the journey including hearing the call, departing, arriving, and returning home. Throughout, readers will discover how to adjust their own travels to help them become pilgrims connecting with the ancient, even eternal, mystery.

For Reflection Along the Way

To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donohue

This isn’t technically a pilgrimage book; however, it has proven indispensable to the journeys that I lead, not only in Ireland (the homeland of the author) but all over the world. This is a book of blessings. Try reading the blessing “For the Traveler” before your departure and you’re already on your way to being a little more pilgrim, a little less tourist. Other blessings may call out to you at various moments along the way. Some favorites include: “A Morning Offering” at the start of your day; “For Presence” as a reminder of the attentiveness of a pilgrim; “For Love in a Time of Conflict” if you visit places with a history of conflict; “On Passing a Graveyard” for the many graveyards you encounter when traveling; and “At the End of the Day: A Mirror of Questions” for reflecting on the day’s experiences.

For the History of Christian Pilgrimage

The Pilgrim Journey by James Harpur

Christian pilgrimage has roots as deep as the fourth century, but it is a relatively new phenomenon among most Protestants. This short history book introduces the roots of pilgrimage in an era when Christians were martyred for their faith and explains how pilgrimage became a normative practice, especially in the Middle Ages. You’ll read about the practices of these early pilgrims and consider how they might be reflected in more contemporary journeys. The book also explores several revered pilgrimage routes and sites including the Holy Land, Camino de Santiago, Rome and Canterbury.

For Living Like a Pilgrim at Home

The Soul of a Pilgrim by Christine Valters Paintner

Whether you’re a novice pilgrim or a long-time practitioner of sacred travel, this book will help you take the lessons of pilgrimage and apply them to any period of change or transformation in your life. Christine Valters Paintner is an able guide for the journey offering biblical reflection, personal narrative and creative exercises to bring the values of openness, hospitality, presence and wonder into the literal and metaphorical journeys we make over the course of our lives.