Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Reflecting on a Walkabout

Here are three meandering reflections on pilgrimage, or as we like to call it: walkabout.

- A couple days ago, my friend Steve and I set out on another walkabout. This time I took my phone with me to track our progress. Eighteen miles! It took about seven hours, with about an hour for lunch. I was exhausted at the end, sore and sunburned. And we're already talking about what the next one's going to be! The first three hours were relatively easy, as far as it goes. By the time we reached our destination for lunch, we had walked nine miles. We didn't stop to rest at all so I was hungry and tired. Our midway point was a farm out south of Kansas City, owned by a friend of Steve's. About two miles out from the farm we guessed that there would probably be a refrigerator full of ice-cold refreshing beverages. When I sat down with that cold drink in my hand, I started to have a small imagination for what true hospitality and friendship might actually look like. I had reached a point where I was desperately in need of something cold to drink, a point I, and a lot of other North American, hardly ever truly experience. We eat and drink out of habit and indifference, rather than necessity and thankfulness. The walk back was much more difficult. My biggest concern was my hip flexor and my feet. I was doing my best not to change the way I walk, knowing that would cause pain to parts of my leg not used to bearing that much weight while walking. I did pretty good, except the lower parts of the my leg - the muscles next to my shin - really hurt me the next few days. We found a walking stick that proved to be really helpful. One of us would use it for a couple of hills and then we would switch. We stopped a several more times on the way back to rest. At one point we found a shaded spot on a bridge that was just about perfect for a two minute respite before we finished the last leg of our journey. At one point near the end we came upon a blackberry tree. There's nothing better than a sweet taste in your mouth when you've been walking for hours, sipping hot water. What is the kingdom of heaven like? It's like a the taste of rich, sweet blackberries at the end of a long, long walkabout.

- I'm starting to understand the need for pilgrimage as a spiritual discipline, at least for North American Christians for whom the status quo is ease and comfort. I'm reminded of something I read once by David Burrell. He says, "In Beth Sahour we have a YMCA pool; I go there three mornings a week. There's a BMW pulled off the side of the road, and it's one of my swimming partners. I pull to the side, and I say, 'What's that?' 'It's a puncture.' I said, 'Let's fix it.' As a driver of a BMW, my friend had never fixed a tire in his life. And that's the American strength, 'Let's fix it.'" But he points out that such strengths can also be our weakness. It can turn into arrogance such that we need no help from others because we can just do it ourselves. This kind of self-sufficiency, though, can also lead to a kind of slothful laziness as we construct a reality that removes us further and further from the land and the virtue of work. It's gone from we can do it ourselves to we can't do anything for ourselves. I'm not one to talk as I feel tragically removed from the land, but I hope the rest of my life leads me back there.

- In his book, The Sacred Way, Tony Jones quotes Robert Brancatelli on the subject of pilgrimage. "[Brancatelli] sees three steps in the journey. The first is separation, the time of leaving home and that which is comfortable and familiar. The next stage is the liminal period, when the pilgrim is at the edge, the border, the frontier of spirituality - this is when the pilgrim leaves home behind and makes Christ her guide. Finally, reintegration into the community takes place, but the former pilgrim is now, in many ways, an adult with is an individuated faith of his own." I always say you never walk the road alone, but you have to walk it for yourself. I wonder how many of us have barely started the adventure of separation where we truly begin to hold loosely the "stuff" of our lives in order to deeply embrace a better, more divine way.

(The image is one that I took from our walkabout)

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