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Americans are Natural Pilgrims On Quest

Americans are drawn to the very notion of pilgrimage because in some sense we are all pilgrims, in that we all have "an antecedent place," says Bruce Feiler in a 4-minute news video prepared for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, a source for cutting-edge reporting at the intersection of faith and culture. But pilgrimage, Feiler continues, is not about "some thunderbolt that is going to come from the sky," it is the search for "a bit of quiet, and a bit of discomfort, and a bit of openness" that makes it more possible for people "to hear whatever it is they're seeking." As host and narrator for the PBS program "Sacred Journeys," Feiler has had the opportunity to observe and participate in the pilgrim's quest of meaning his program chronicles. "It's difficult to make one of these journeys," he notes, because it involves international travel, unfamiliar accommodations and food, changes in wardrobe, and even at times changing one's appearance. In all these ways we, as pilgrims are "shedding [our] former self and opening [ourself] up to what might happen." 

One of the powers of taking on a pilgrimage is that the seeker is continuing a tradition and practice that has been in motion for thousands of years. "There is … a power that comes from walking on a walk that has been ground into the stones, into the dirt, into the path," says Feiler. It results in "people struggling and questioning, and yearning and wanting and ultimately almost to a T saying that there was a moment where they had a personal connection with what they were looking for," he observes.  Yet, for all that, Feiler said his explorations show that "the pilgrimage never really culminates until you go back home" and discover the lessons and life-meaning each person takes into her or his daily existence. 

A feature article on our website, "Holiday Influx Offers Opportunity to Connect with Marginal Church Members," notes that many marginal church members and attendees make annual pilgrimages to worship during major Christian holidays and holy days. Occasional church visits can be a new member's way of seeking quiet and comfort, and church leaders should use the opportunity to reach out to them, and to proclaim to marginal members the good news, share the great community ministries and missions of the church, and to incarnate the love faith communities offer across space and through time.

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