A number of the world’s great religions encourage their followers to make a pilgrimage at some time in their lives. Whether a pilgrimage involves travel to a far-off holy place or a nearby weekend retreat, it is intended as part of spiritual development. This week’s clergy discuss pilgrimages from the perspective of Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Rabbi Lyle S. Rothman
Director of Jewish Life and Learning, Hofstra University Hillel
Jewish tradition teaches that three times a year, on Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, the Israelites are commanded to make a holy pilgrimage and appear before God. This practice continued long after the destruction of both temples in Jerusalem and endures to this day. These three pilgrimage festivals remind us of our covenant with God, bring us closer together as a Jewish people, and connect us to the holiness of Jerusalem.
For many Jews, pilgrimage to Jerusalem was nearly impossible. But today, more than ever, almost every young Jew between the ages of 18-26 has the ability to make pilgrimage to Israel through the Birthright Israel program. For 10 days these young Jews are able to connect to their faith in real and tangible ways. On college campuses around the country we see many students return from their Israel experience ready to wrestle with a newfound connection to faith, to peoplehood, and to the concept of homeland. While some Jews make pilgrimage to the holy land, others connect to their faith by journeying to holy places. Although the synagogue may be the most obvious holy place for Jews, I believe that holiness may also be found beyond the walls of a sacred building. Faith in God can be found by making pilgrimage into the deepest recesses of one’s soul. For only when we journey to truly understand our “self,” are we able to enter into a relationship with the divine.
The Rev. Thomas Boyd
Pastor, Church of the Nazarene, Massapequa Park
A pilgrimage is simply a spiritual journey. It is a time in life that is set apart to be with God. Our version in the 21st century is a spiritual retreat. It is a week or a weekend to get away from everyday life and spend time with God. The reason these times strengthen our faith is because we are prepared to listen to God. When we seek God, we will find him. In Matthew chapter two, the Magi left their land in the East to seek Jesus. In verse 11, they saw the child and they bowed down and worshiped him. In the Old Testament book of Genesis (12:1-2), we see God call Abraham. “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you.” This pilgrimage began the nation of Israel. A spiritual retreat will not just strengthen your faith; it will change your life. Any time we, as God’s creation, choose to allow our creator to have access to our inner lives, we will be changed. In John chapter three, Nicodemus came to meet with Jesus. Nicodemus, a member of the ruling council, asked Jesus in this late-evening encounter for truth. Jesus responds in John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.” Seek with all your heart and you will find.
Trustee of the board, Islamic Center of Long Island, Westbury
For the Muslim, pilgrimage is one of the basic tenets of faith — it goes by the name of hajj. It’s performed in Mecca, which is in Saudi Arabia. Hajj is performed on the 9th day of the 12th month of the Islamic Calendar called Zul-Hijjah. It is an obligation only on those who are physically and financially able to undertake the journey. Pilgrims are required to wear special dress to strip away the distinctions of class and culture. Two million people show up, and all men are dressed the same — two white towels. The prince and the pauper are side by side; you can’t tell the difference between them. This serves as a reminder of how we will be judged on the day of judgment, not by our status or position in this world but by what we have done. When I performed hajj in 1997, I experienced a dress rehearsal of what the day of judgment might be like. It gave me a very clear vision that things we consider important are really not that important. The ultimate prize for a Muslim is to make his or her way into paradise, and this event transforms you, it gives you a reality check. This was the event that changed Malcolm X. Before he made a pilgrimage to Mecca, he was preaching hatred against white people, and when he came back, that changed completely. It’s a tough journey. You have some physical discomfort, you have a lot of people around you, but at the end of the day, you realize humanity is one.