Peregrinatio: Read this if you want to understand me.

If you want to understand me right now, the following excerpt is essential reading. When I first came across it last year, it bowled me over—I was moved to tears—it so perfectly articulated the inner movements I had been experiencing.

Sometimes we read something which so captures our experience we feel a great deal of relief and resonance—someone is finally articulating what we had no words for.

What a strange thing it was for me to discover companions for the journey in these ancient Celtic saints. How is it they can still speak to us with such power now? In part, it is their compelling embodiment of a pattern of transformation applicable to us all. It is the interior movement from trusting ourselves (which can only mean fear and anxiety, or denial) to a true trust in God and confidence that Christ has ability to provide what we most deeply need and long for. But mostly, all that comes later; discovered only in the going. We must first set out for the unknown, with trembling legs, risking all things, "for the love of God."

When I left, I had no idea what I was getting into, I just knew I had to go. Now having returned a year later, I continue to experience a strange and intense resonance with this description of pilgrimage. Now I feel it not as one pushing off from shore, or even adrift at sea (though I've known that too), but as one newly arrived on a foreign shore; the land beautiful, strange, untamed, and wholly unlike anything I could have predicted.


“The whole idea of journey is basic to humanity. I think the universality of the image of the quest, the myths of the odyssey or the search for the Holy Grail, the many stories of wandering and exodus. The monastic life has always been that of a continual conversion, moving on, the never-ending transformation of the old into the new. Jung’s psychic reality is journeying on. If we say yes to Christ’s call to follow him, our Christian discipleship asks of us to follow a man who had no one to lay his head. Christ himself is the Way and his followers are people of the Way. Just as he entered the wilderness, like Moses and the children of Israel, and made his own journey through life to death and resurrection and new life, so that pattern is inescapable for us all. And if in this model we see Christ encountering temptation and hardship, we, his followers, should not expect anything less. This journey will be costly and the Celtic tradition never allows us to forget just how costly. It is also surprising and risky, not necessarily following any clear-cut pattern of having some end and goal in view so that the purpose can be clearly established and then followed. For the really significant journey is the interior journey. As Dag Hammarskjold said, “The longest journey is the journey inward.” It is here that I need help, and this is one of the reasons why I have found it such a source of strength and inspiration on my own journey to look at the Celtic understanding of pereginatio, a word and concept that is found nowhere else in Christendom.

The word itself is almost untranslatable, but its essence is caught in the ninth-century story of three Irishmen drifting over the sea from Ireland for seven day, in coracles without oars, coming ashore in Cornwall and then being brought to the court of King Alfred. When he asked them where they had come from and where they were going they answered that they “stole away because we wanted for the Love of God to be on pilgrimage, we cared not where.” This wonderful response and this amazing undertaking comes out of the inspirational character of early Irish spirituality. It shows at once how misleading is that word “pilgrimage” as we use it and how very different indeed is the Celtic peregrinatio from the pilgrimages of the Middle Ages or the the present day. There is no specific end or goal such as that of reaching a shrine or a holy place that allows the pilgrim at the end of the journey to return home with a sense of mission accomplished. Peregrinatio is not undertaken at the suggestion of some monastic abbot or superior but because of an inner prompting to those who set out, a passionate conviction that they must undertake what was essentially an inner journey. Ready to go wherever the Spirit might take them, seeing themselves as hospites mundi, “guests of the world,” what they are seeking is the place of their resurrection, the resurrected self, the true self in Christ, which is for all of us our true home.

So peregrinatio presents us with the ideal of the interior, inward journey that is undertaken for the love of God, or for the love of Christ, pro amoreChristi. The impulse is love. And if the journey is undertaken for the love of Christ, then it argues that Christ must already hold a place in our lives.