In December, PBS aired a series called Sacred Journeys with Bruce Feiler. Given that I offer spiritual journeys myself, it caught my attention. Bruce Feiler is the bestselling author of several books on religion and contemporary lifestyle, as well as New York Times columnist for This Life in the Sunday newspaper. In the program, he goes along with US travelers to six separate sites around the globe as they participate in sacred gatherings and pilgrimages. As viewers we get hour-long glimpses of:
- Lourdes, France where the young peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous, claimed the Virgin Mary appeared to her over a period of time in 1858;
- A 750-mile pilgrimage route on the Japanese island of Shikoku to 88 temples and shrines honoring the esteemed Buddhist monk Kobo-Daishi, responsible for bringing Buddhism from China in the 9th century;
- The holy sites in Jerusalem encompassing Judaism, Christianity and Islam;
- The annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, which mirrors Muhammad’s return to his home as leader of the new Islamic religion;
- The Kumbh Mela, the largest religious gathering in the world, occurring every 12 years at the intersection of the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers in Allahabad, India;
- The annual festival of Osun-Osgobo in Osogbo, Nigeria, honoring the goddess of fertility, Osun, of the Yoruba religion.
All features in this series are worth the watch. They’re inspiring and caused me to look at my own reasons for pilgrimages I’ve taken…and the one I’m preparing to take.
The Lourdes segment focused on the annual International Military Pilgrimage that has been ongoing since WWII. This filming showed US veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, carrying visible and invisible wounds, and was especially poignant.
The Yoruba feature was particularly interesting to me, showing elements of initiation rituals. An explanation offered why there were influences from other religions incorporated into Yoruba: As with many sacred traditions, those who are indigenous to the land incorporate the conqueror’s religion in order to stay alive. They become so intertwined in order that the original form may survive, even if hidden. The statement validated what I’ve seen in some Native traditions I’ve known, and sought to explain myself.
Inasmuch as this series is a visual feast for variety of cultures and spiritual rituals, there’s a thread that remains constant: the sense of seeking and renewal. The pilgrims “move between the questions in their lives” and “step outside themselves to reach for higher meaning.”
I found the pilgrims’ expressions and intent in these segments to be no different than those of the travelers on the spiritual travel journeys I sponsor.
Streaming free at PBS online for a limited time. Also available via DVD or to download.