Tourists and pilgrims
There’s a fine line between a tourist and a pilgrim. That line is most blurred by the common use of cameras. A bus load of American pilgrims looks just like a gaggle of vactioners when shuttering away behind the lens. Even when we’re passing respectfully through a holy, historic church, our photographic life gives the trappings of tourism. Like any tourist, we pilgrims want to capture the moment for later use: share with our friends back home, email to family, post on Facebook or blog. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer in the practice of photo piety. I’m snapping away with the best of them as you can tell.
But what makes this trip a pilgrimage and not a vacation? Why do we believe that we’re something other than extra special tourists in the Holy Land? Is it because the sites we’re visiting have biblical significance? Partly. Today we went to Capernaum, we saw St Peter’s house. Archeologists have confirmed that it’s more than tradition, it’s the ruins of a place Peter and Jesus walked through. We went to Tel Megiddo, or as it’s known: Armageddon, the hill and valley where the last battles are to be fought, according to the book of Revelation. We saw the ruins if Sepphoris, a city where Jesus’ father Joseph most likely traded and sold his wares. We saw a very modern and Muslim Nazareth, where we visited the Church of the Annunciation. There we saw the lower chapel based on ancient ruins traditionally believed to be the house where Mary lived and was visted by Gabriel. It’s a holy place, and when I got there I wanted more than a picture.
When I arrived at the entrance to Mary’s house, I felt an overwhelming need to bow; to submit myself completely before God. There was another group of pilgrims behind us, the line was long and I had just a moment to make my devotion. Before going on my knees, putting my head down and saying a brief prayer to Our Lady, I snapped a photo of the room I saw behind the gate. I was glad I did, because it helps me to recall what I saw. But if I’m a pilgrim, then the photo I took is not the end product. That urge to fall before God is evidence that something else is going on, beyond the urge to capture the memory for the delight of it.
If my shared pictures simply provide recall, if they only delight and inform others of my story, then my photo piety is simply a tourist activity. My pictures serve a pilgrim purpose when they expand the real transfomation of my soul, and that of others, beyond the moment they were taken. For pilgrims, taking pictures is like using a highlighter in our Bible, it underscores a holy realization that we want to come back to, to continue to grow from. We will naturally look, feel and act like tourists along the way, and that’s fine, too, like the wine tasting we did in the shadow of Mt Tabor at sunset tonight. But this journey, and our act of photography, will serve us best when it communicates the Jesus we came to see.