THE JOHN MERRILL MINISTRY - "Embracing and honouring all faiths and none"

WHY I GO ON A PILGRIMAGE

For me an able bodied person making a pilgrimage does so on his two feet, carrying the bear necessities of life on his back, and walking the whole way there. Today, the term pilgrimage, has a variety of meaning, as most come by car or coach, not just to St. Albans or Walsingham but to the other major pilgrim centres of Santiago de Compostela, Fatima, Rome, Lourdes and Trondheim. The actual walking pilgrim is a bit of a rarity, but he is the true one, who has laboured many days through hardship to arrive at the shrine, to make his or her spiritual commitment. Not that I am decrying other peoples efforts. All I am trying to say, is that a pilgrim who has walked has seen so much and prepared himself as he walked and is ready and 'cleansed' for the shrine.

I believe it should be done alone, for although other people's friendship on the walk is enjoyable it lessens the impact the journey has on the mind. With someone else the hardship is lessened and the places seen and explored are not taken in with the same force as when one is alone. Walking alone enables you have a profound deep experience which if shared is halved. By walking alone you discover the places enroute and you never forget what you have seen and experienced. Also, being on your own means that 'special' things will happen to you, which if you were in a group would just not materialise.

I have made many pilgrimages but I do not consider myself religious more a deep spiritual person. I was brought up a Christian but at the age of thirteen went to a Quaker boarding school. There I went to their meeting houses and experienced their peaceful approach to religion. After that I attended church services infrequently but always had a deep faith in the divine. On every marathon walk I know I am guided and my angel is beside me, and have never experienced any mishap. In every village or town I come to I always visit the church, for it is the open bible of the area and a place to give thanks for getting this far. I have been to India and Nepal many times and have studied the Buddhist faith. Whilst there is much that I agree with and know the power of meditation, they don't believe in God, but I do believe in reincarnation! I consider myself a Toaist Buddhist.

On my recent pilgrimage from King's Lynn to Walsingham, I know as I was 'looked after' and my guardian angel ensured I did not put a foot wrong.  Although  I had sore feet, they never bothered me and I was in high spirits and at peace.  I followed tracks, paths and minor roads to Walsingham. Arriving at Pilgrim's House, I felt I had arrived home. In the morning I walked to the Slipper Chapel to make my prayers and light a candle. I walked  back along the 'Pilgrims walk' - the Holy Mile - to Walsingham and onto the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. After this I explored the church and ruined priory before catching the bus and train back home. I returned content and at peace.

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