The idea of True North has become a popular metaphor. It's an easy concept that helps explorers understand the direction they're going, even when they don't know precisely where they are.
Pilgrimage is similar, though it can be far more tangible, yet is far less utilized by most people. Pilgrimage represents repeated visits to the same place over time for the purpose of reflection.
While True North is important for the macro decisions of life (career, spouse, faith and family), pilgrimage is a micro version of this concept, allowing us to reflect on our True North and do it in manageable bites.
For me there are two places of pilgrimage. One is Simpson Park Camp, north of Detroit in Romeo, Michigan. The other is the Athenium Restaurant in Pike Place Market, Seattle.
The Simpson Park Camp Meeting is an annual gathering at the end of July. Families have come together at the corner of Campground and Gates Road for nearly 150 years seeking to renew their faith. In some families the journey has extended to the fifth and sixth generation. For our family we are newcomers at only three generations! For me this time is a week to unplug from the world at large, to enjoy my family and seek the things of God. I try to disconnect from technology and the news, and I seek to rediscover a slower pace of living in a community of people.
Athenium is a different spot. It is far from my home. The ongoing pilgrimage there started 22 or 23 years ago. I was supposed to take a trip with a colleague and a group of people from Seattle to Vladivostok in Siberia. It was in the day when the Soviet Union was just beginning to open. We were supposed to be among the first to go there. Instead we were stranded in Seattle. Mike Evans and I wandered to Pike Place Market, and on a cold December evening found ourselves over a cup of soup, with a view of the Sound and with time on our hands.
I asked Mike, so what do you want to be doing ten years from now? What ensued was a conversation about our lives and a desired, but unknown future. Mike talked about hoping to be a pastor, and today he is, in Northern Wisconsin. I really don't remember the specifics of what I said, but I know it was animated with lots of wonder, full of dreams.
To this day, any time I am in Seattle I return to the Athenium to reflect again on what has happened since I was there last and think about what I anticipate for the future. Over the years, I have gone alone and sometimes with others. Sometimes the visits have been months or weeks apart, other times years apart. The reflections have been about family, about politics, about expeditions and life decisions. Each time I am amazed by all that has happened since the last time.
True North is important to seek, but in the journeys of our life and work, career and business, the role of pilgrimage is equally important. Pilgrimage can give focus, and at times, release for the shorter seasons of life. Pilgrimage places can help us to process and to make sense of what is going on around us on our way to our True North calling. And in those moments at special places we can both discover and release, knowing that there are some things that stay the same in a world that is constantly changing.