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The Enduring Allure of Pilgrimage

On the road again

Lisa Wells, author of Believers: Making a Life at the End of the World, explores modern pilgrimage from a secular perspective, attempting to comprehend the force of conviction that motivates someone to eschew all worldly possessions. Ann Sieben, a middle-aged pilgrim from New Jersey who has walked through conflict zones and remote wildernesses in winter with only the clothes on her back (and, more recently, a COVID pass), is Wells’s guide of sorts. In what ways does the pilgrim find freedom? What role does gender play in the journey? Can it be a metaphor—for motherhood, say, or for storytelling? When you steep yourself in narratives, whether of saints or the secular, the distance between reader and story gets thinner. You begin to inhabit stories in a new way. “I think that’s maybe the crux of the whole thing for me,” said Wells, of pilgrimage. “That it can be a gift to let go of the romantic story so you can, with clear eyes, encounter the embodied reality of your situation.”

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October 2021

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