Peregrinatio: To Be a Holy Wanderer

This is the last of our four-part series on Celtic spirituality. Thank you for exploring the rich heritage of the Celtic tradition with me!

There is a tradition in Celtic Christianity of the peregrinatio, a pilgrim who wanders without destination. This vein of holy traveler does not occur in other strands of spirituality. It contrasts with the pilgrim, who sets out with a particular destination. The peregrinatio hears an invitation within her own soul to set out, not knowing where God might lead her. It is intriguing that this comes out of Celtic spirituality, for these are a people deeply connected to both the land and to God. There wasn’t a sense that they needed to travel to find God elsewhere. Rather, the journey was a way to deepen in relationship with the Lord, to practice complete trust and surrender. The journey of the holy wanderer is a powerful metaphor of the interior journey, of the wilds within our own souls that God invites us to explore, and of the way a relationship with God is a journey into mystery.

 Print of The Mysterious Boat by Odilon Redon

Print of The Mysterious Boat by Odilon Redon

St. Brendan the Navigator is the most famous of the peregrinatios. St. Brendan set out in his currach without oars, trusting the Holy Spirit to fill the sails and lead him wherever he was meant to go. His story has captured my imagination. I have a painting of his boat that I use as an entry point to prayer. I imagine myself in the boat and I ask the Holy Spirit to fill my sails and lead me where She will, to points unknown. I feel my soul fill with hope and possibility as I practice trusting the Lord with my journey. In my interior life, I am a content peregrinatio.

That is rarely the case in my exterior life. When I find myself in situations where the outcome is unknown and I am wandering without a destination, I feel anxious and worried. I want to take control and rush things along to an outcome. Will I get the job I hoped for? Will we need to move? What will the test results show? When the direction of my life is unclear, I often forget how to trust and find my hope in letting the Lord be my guide. To be without destination is an attractive concept and a difficult reality.

I see in the tradition of the peregrination an invitation to be in these unknown situations in a different way. I am learning how to reframe these exterior unknowns as opportunity to journey with the Lord. They remind me that God is both leading the way, and is the destination, and is the path that I travel. When I feel the anxiety and fear creep in, I remember St. Brendan’s boat, and I ask the Holy Spirit to help me to trust that my sails will be filled.

There are different ways to play with this concept of peregrinatio. Like me, you could pray imaginatively with the imagery of a boat at sea. Can you picture yourself in that vessel, riding the waves? What are the uncertain waters that you are experiencing in your life? What is your sense of God within the scene you enter? Another way to practice would be to set out for a walk without a destination, to let yourself physically wander. Notice as you walk, where God might be present within the wandering. These are just two possibilities. I hope you find time to play with this concept of the holy wanderer, and to deepen in your own spiritual journey.

For reflection: Where in your life are you being invited to live in the not yet known? What journeys are you currently taking that do not have a known destination? What might God be saying to you within the mystery?