The explorer and the traveller, not to mention the tourist, may take to a pilgrimage route, but the motives for their departure, what they seek, and the significance of their ultimate destination are never those of a pilgrim. The pilgrim's progress is both an interior journey, a spiritual exercise, and a physical journey towards an actual site imbued with a divine character. The condition of the pilgrim, in fact, comes remarkably close to that of the hero. By abandoning familiar, worldly surroundings, submitting oneself to physical hardship and sometimes considerable danger, and paying homage or penance at a holy site, pilgrims, like heroes, know that they will return from their odyssey in some way renewed, or at least inwardly changed. 'A visitor passes through a place;' wrote Cynthia Ozick, 'the place passes through the pilgrim.' In describing mystical experience, Meister Eckhart used pilgrimage as a metaphor: 'the Wayless Way, where the Sons of God lose themselves and, at the same time, find themselves.' That, in a phrase, is every pilgrim's goal.
NICHOLAS SHRADY Sacred Roads: Adventures From The Pilgrimage Trail (1999)