September 10, 2019
Sherri Dietrich, President, the United Thank Offering Board

You don’t begin a pilgrimage like October’s UTO Pilgrims on the Camino by getting on an airplane and just starting to walk when you hit the ground in Spain. Even those of us who are doing the driving arm of the pilgrimage to visit UTO Grant sites in Spain must prepare for the spiritual exercise, if not the physical exercise, of a true pilgrimage. Although I’m very excited about my first visit to Spain and all of the beautiful, historical cities we’ll be visiting, this is first and foremost a spiritual pilgrimage and not just another great vacation.

So what makes a pilgrimage, and how can we make this specifically a UTO-centered, gratitude-based pilgrimage? Merriam-Webster’s rather spectacularly unhelpful definition of pilgrimage is “a journey of a pilgrim.” Pilgrim is defined as “one who journeys in foreign lands” or “one who travels to a shrine or holy place as a devotee,” and the definition of devotee is equally uninspiring. Clearly, what we mean by pilgrimage doesn’t lend itself to a dictionary definition. I’ve been reading and thinking about pilgrimage for months now, and here are some of my thoughts.

First, a pilgrimage involves (usually) a physical journey. Pilgrims leave the comfort and familiarity of their day-to-day lives to experience temporarily a different way of life and to learn from that experience. One of the things I love about travel is exactly this – seeing how people live and have lived in another place and how their surroundings and culture have shaped their way of life and their faith. In Spain, we will see cities that are centuries old, and we will learn how those cities grew, what life was like there previously, and what life is like there now. And we will see where the Church and UTO fit into those cities and lives now.

Second, pilgrims hope to gain self-knowledge. We want to understand our place in the world, and we want to be transformed – to become the next best version of ourselves. Pilgrims are on a quest, whether to answer a specific question in their hearts or simply to be open and listening to their souls. How to live a life of overflowing gratitude is my quest this fall. I firmly believe in the importance of gratitude and I do incorporate gratitude into my life every day, but I’d like more.

And finally, a pilgrimage is an encounter and journey with God. We experience God in our daily lives, but it is a rare privilege to be able to set aside 10 days specifically to look to and be with God, alongside a group of others doing the same. There is always more of God to know, and there’s nothing like a new perspective to reveal more about God’s love and will for us. Please keep the UTO pilgrims in your prayers as we journey together gratefully in October, and we will keep you in our prayers, too.

Tagged in: Pilgrimage