Friday, August 3, 2007
I have been on many pilgrimages because for me the Christian life is a journey. I have gone on planned retreat-like trips and some have been just happenstance. Most of the places have touched me in some way. I have gone to Canturbury, Santiago Compestela, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Taize, Little Gittings, Iona, Lindesfarne, and the pilgrimage of the Mississippi Martyrs near Selma, AL for the feast of Jonathan Daniels. I plan to visit the place where the Ursulines came to North America in Quebec at the end of the month and touch a bit of my past in the convent. All of these places held something of the connection between humanity and the Divine that makes them special. Some have held the remains of those who have gone before, the history and the faith upon which I stand. Some have just been “thin places” which my Celtic forbearers say are the narrows between heaven and earth. All of them have moved me.
The trips I have taken have varied. The ones that were designed to be “holy,” weren’t. There was the totally unscheduled, such as the trip to Little Gittings, the sight of a Protestant religious community in northern England which was delightful and light-hearted. The pilgrimage to Jon’s site of martyrdom with Judy was hard but healing after 41 years. And then there was Stonehenge that was never intended to be a place of pilgrimage but turned into such a profound experience of my forbearers attempting to touch the Divine --And then there was the walk through the church yard cemetery in Scotland where my family came from and feeling my past reach out to me.
At Compostela I was moved by the dished steps in the crypt where the feet of pilgrims have worn away the stone. The supplicants who walked on their knees to the Villa of Our Lady of Guadalupe humbled me with their piety. Iona and Lindesfarne both gripped me with the starkness of the life of those who founded Christianity for much of northern Europe. And Taize claimed the newness and the inclusivity of my faith with the lives of young people from all over the world.
I have not gone to the Holy Land. I thought of going there on sabbatical at one time but was afraid that the commercialization would gall me. Certainly the political situation has been off-putting for a number of years. Perhaps it is my vision of what those places are like that I don’t want disturbed by reality that keeps me from visiting the lands that Abraham and Sarah, our Lord and the apostles walked. If I went I would like to go with a Jewish archeologist who could help me separate the myth from reality. I do believe that the events of Jesus’ life are by far more mundane that the past 2000 years have told us.
What makes pilgrimage different from tourism? I am not sure except I don’t think I am too often a tourist. When I go places I want to drink deeply of the culture, the faith, the life of the people both past and present of a place. I am not one who eats at McDonalds when I travel. It is when I can talk and eat with those fellow travelers that I grow in my understanding of others and God. It is when I can participate in the festivals of a people whether they be Christian or some other faith, I feel God reaching out to me in the hearts those whose God has touched them too. There is a bond and we are one in Spirit. All life is a pilgrimage when seen this way.
For those who go, take pictures, write your feelings in a journal, stop and recall the smell, the light, and the people you meet, and let God do the rest. Yes, the trip will become apocryphal. You may remember more or less of what the journey was really like. But what will stay in your memory will be what God wants you to remember. Most of all go with an open mind and an open heart no matter where you go. God is always there, you know.