The process of pilgrimage begins internally long before the bags are packed, door is closed and the first steps are taken. There are many things to think about.
A. There is what I would call personal preparation to be done; a whole list of questions need to be answered:
What is my destination? Where do I intend to go? How important is the actual destination…is it potentially more important than the process of getting there? Will I, like the Celtic Christians of old, simply set aside a time and set out to travel wherever the love of Christ takes me…a risky and exciting endeavour?
What has drawn me to this place? Is it a place associated with my personal past, with family and friends. Has a significant event occurred there or is it associated with a person I admire? Is it a pilgrimage to a traditional, spiritual site, maybe along a well-walked pilgrim route? Does the desire to journey have to do with a rite of passage, a stage of life or some other personal event?
When will I go? What time of year would be best for travelling (Particularly if it’s a pilgrimage on foot)? When can I set aside sufficient time from my diary to make the event unrushed and purposeful?
How will I travel? If the destination is of great importance using train, boat or plane all the way to the destination may be legitimate? Even if I could drive, would it be better to take public transport so that I can be more attentive to the journey? Will I use a mix of modes of transport? Is the transport only taking me to, or close to, the starting point; from there on, the journey will be completed on foot.
Shall I travel alone or as part of a group? Security, friendship and personal choice may influence this decision.
B. Then there is the logistical preparation that has to be done. There are maps and guidebooks to consult, packing lists to be made and itineraries to be planned.
Tickets for public transport need to be booked, parking for vehicles needs to be investigated and accommodation needs to be reserved, provision for eating needs to be thought through.
C. The process of preparing spiritually needs to underpin the whole of this period of the process. This may be a good time to begin a special journal, to be kept right through the pilgrimage. Thoughts about how to develop and maintain a sense of God’s presence during the pilgrimage need to be thought through…will you have regular times for prayer Edward during the day, perhaps using a Daily Office (which one?)? Will there be times during the day when you deliberately walk in silence (particularly if you are part of a group)? What are your spiritual aspirations for the pilgrimage…what are you looking for/hoping to find or become?
Finally, as the date of departure approaches, there is a time for dreaming, for anticipation and for excitement.
The following books have good chapters on the process of pilgrimage:
“Pilgrimage” by David Osborne, chapter 6
“Making a Pilgrimage” by Sally Welch, the whole book!
“Pilgrimage” by Edward Sellner, chapter 4 and several appendices
“On Pilgrimage” by Douglas Vest, chapter 7 and the appendix “Checklists for planning your pilgrimage”