I live in an area of the U.S. where people walk to a certain site – a specific holy place – to commemorate, to celebrate, to remember, to worship, to honor or to atone for a wrong.
In a very small town, in rural New Mexico, tens of thousands of people gather from all over the southwest this time of year – and many walk for days – to light a candle and receive a scoop of dirt from the Santuario de Chimayo.
They have been doing this for hundreds of years.
Pilgrimages are not unique to Northern New Mexico – just not as common in this country as older routes in Europe and the rest of the world. Perhaps, in your travels, you have visited one of these sites? Cathedrals…springs…mountains…lakes…rocks…caves…all places that are hallowed as sacred sites – holy ground – sightings of revered spiritual beings. Or perhaps you have walked one of these ancient routes?
When I first moved to New Mexico around 28 years ago this pilgrimage occurrence was a phenomenon to me – something that seemed a bit extraordinary. It had not been part of my southern small town upbringing. The religious organizations in my home town did not talk about religious pilgrims or the intent behind setting aside a particular time of the year to spend walking – in prayer, contemplation or meditation – focusing on one’s relationship to God/Spirit or dedicating their walk to a loved one that was ill or challenged in some way.
During the ‘holy week’ leading up to the Christian celebration of Easter the main highway through Santa Fe is filled with walkers – and with water and refreshment stands. There are signs along the highway to drive slowly to avoid an accident – and in the most congested areas are police cars directing traffic.
You see families walking; members of organizations walking; people carrying crosses walking; religious leaders walking; one person walking alone; the young, the old walking; dogs with owners walking.
And yes, I have walked the pilgrimage route to the Santuario. Several times…
And I must say there is something deeply fulfilling to walk – with the throngs of people – who have in their hearts a call to dedicate this time of year to walk -to set aside the rest of their life, their activities and responsibilities to follow a deeper conviction; to keep a promise they made; to complete and release perhaps a personal heavy burden.
Walking along side people of all faiths, nationalities and ages is compelling. My experience in walking is barriers of race, creed, culture, situation or circumstance melt in the clear-blue-sky-sun of a New Mexico day. If I began the walk with a foggy brain or a heavy gate I completed the walk with clarity and a light step.
Today, reflecting on this ancient ritual that people in all religions or spiritual convictions have been participating in for thousands of years I realize that the walk of my life has been a pilgrimage. The path I have followed all along has been prompted by a deep heart calling. Sure, there have been some detours, some side trips and some side shows – but the main journey has been heart-led and heart-true.
I am by no means complete with my life walk. I still have miles to go and many experiences ahead. But my seeing is getting clearer…and my load is lighter. And I also know I do not walk without support, companionship and refreshment stops along the way.
If you are searching for a path and pilgrims to join you, but aren’t quite ready for a true pilgrimage, I invite you to join us in the Blessed Membership and our Facebook Group to find like-minded and like-hearted individuals who are walking the same or a similar path.