Going to Saint-Terre

One of the more life-affirming Web sites that I visit these days is:

Andy Skurka is taking a year-long, 7,700 mile walk across the North American continent. Right now, he is somewhere west of Frazee, Minnesota, having walked close to 5,000 miles already. His sister posts trail logs just about every week, giving the latest news from his trek.

What is this but a contemporary pilgrimage — a pilgrimage, not to some dusty bones and pieces of a holy person long dead, but a pilgrimage to find who knows what? It strikes me as a good kind of pilgrimage for my kind of religion. Henry Thoreau offers a theological justification for this kind of pilgrimage in his essay “Walking”:

I have met but one or two persons in the course of my life who understand the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks — who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, whihc word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a saunterer, a Holy Lander.

And where is that Holy Land, that Sainte Terre, of which Thoreau speaks? Why, right in front of your feet. Andy Skurka is finding that Holy Land with each step he takes, and he has captured my imagination. I’m already thinking about what pilgrimage, to which holy land, I’m going to make.

Update: Andy Skurka completed his cross-continental hike ahead of schedule.