What is a State of Pilgrimage?



Thresholds mark a state of pilgrimage.

Ernest Hemingway’s grave is a large, simple slab of marble nestled under a western evergreen in the ruggedly beautiful, yet annoyingly posh town of Ketchum Idaho. Hemingway’s grave served as a destination for my pilgrimage, but as so often happens, the destination was only the fourth most meaningful part of the journey. A bakery in Stanley, a trail run at Redfish Lake, and the music of Carrie Rodriguez all had a greater impact on my soul. I'm not even a Hemingway fan, however, without that destination, I’d have never experienced any of those other treasures. Pilgrimages are bounded experiences with thresholds setting the journeys apart from our everyday routines. There is no journey without a destination.


Discoveries drive a state of pilgrimage.

Yet, as just about every spiritual tradition will tell you, the gems are in the journey, not the destination. The bakery in Stanley Idaho provided the first of gems. As I pulled out from Boise that morning, I had no intention of eating out. On a hospital chaplain’s budget, I had packed two PB&Js, a box of Clif bars, and a bag of apples. However, when I pulled into Stanley, the sweet aroma of fresh-baked bread overpowered my steering wheel and landed me in the parking lot of the Stanley Baking Co. The bread turned out to taste as good as it smelled, and as I ate it from the tailgate of my pickup, I discovered a second treasure - the unhurried witness to the Sawtooth Mountains and the Salmon River. Like the sourdough, the adoration of the landscape was not part of my original itinerary, but that’s the beauty of a state of pilgrimage, detours are encouraged.

Connections knit together a state of pilgrimage.

Detours are like wet trail shoes; tough to commit to the first one, but once you’re soaked, you want to splash through every creek you come across. Trail 186 near Redfish Lake Lodge resides just six miles down the road from Stanley in the direction of Ketchum. The trail began with a granite-studded incline and then relented into a rolling terrain of alpine meadows and evergreen forests. My tempo harmonized with the surroundings and I felt less like an object moving through the landscape, and more like a part of the landscape in motion. Yet like the mountain bluebird coming to light in a lodgepole pine, the bonds we knit at rest are equally powerful to the bonds we forge in motion.

Heartspaces expand in a state of pilgrimage.

Meditation teachers tell you to imagine your awareness as a fishbowl, and the first step to mental clarity is letting the sediment of your mind settle to the bottom of your bowl. That exercise can be tough in an urban studio with a 50-minute time limit, but it comes easily by an alpine lake near the summer solstice. When my sediment settled on the shores of a bench lake, tears followed - some for grief repressed, some for joy postponed, but all serving to cleanse a soul which daily dealt with death and healing. Practicing stillness opens up space in our bodies and minds so our hearts and souls can breathe with ease.


Discernment flourishes in a state of pilgrimage.

An hour after coming off trail 186, I stood over Hemingway’s grave. Coins, beer bottles, and rain-soaked copies of The Old Man and the Sea littered the final resting place. I had come expecting to feel a sense of solemnity, of tragedy, and of respect, but after the bakery and the trail run, none of those feelings emerged. Instead, I felt deep compassion for a life hard-lived, and an overwhelming urge to honor the dead by living well. A state of pilgrimage, like Hemingway’s writing, has a way of cutting through the superfluous and getting to the marrow of life - the simple joy and gratitude of being itself, and the desire to share in that joy with the rest of creation.

Communities emerge from a state of pilgrimage.

I left the Ketchum Cemetery in search of new friends. Thanks to the enduring state of pilgrimage, and the associated attunement to spiritual senses, I discovered the Northern Rockies Folk Festival just a few minutes down the road. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit headlined the festival, but it was Carrie Rodriguez’s set that culminated the pilgrimage for me. The Sawtooth Mountains framed the stage like the Santiago de Compstella Cathedral at the end of the Camino de Santiago, and Carrie’s fiddle and vocals offered a liturgy every bit as powerful as a Pentecostal mass. I fell into a communal state of singing, dancing, and merry-making. Strangers became friends, nachos became sacraments, and all of the mundanes became holy. A state of pilgrimage is, in the end, training for the ultimate state of reality.

A state of pilgrimage is worth pursuing because…

Upon returning to Boise, I assisted with an Episcopal funeral, whose opening prayer said, “O God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day our sister. We thank you for giving her to us, her family and friends, to know and to love as a companion on our earthly pilgrimage.” Most faiths will agree, this life is a pilgrimage bounded by the womb and the tomb, and the best way to get the most out of this larger journey is to cultivate a state of pilgrimage in little moveable feasts along the way.


Threshold Expeditions’ Pilgrimages can’t bring you to a state of pilgrimage, but we can offer you thresholds, detours, connections, stillness, discernment, and community so you can discover that state on your own. Check out our Camino de Big Bend for more information.