Category Archives: Pilgrimage

An Imaginal Pilgrimage (Part 2)

Commuting as a Sacred Journey

I have to admit that I have a problem with road rage.  I’ve always resented sitting in traffic in a little box with wheels, penned in by other drivers.  I have little patience for it, and it feels as though a little piece of real life is being devoured by a vortex of meaninglessness.  I’m sorry to say that my frustration with Atlanta traffic reached a boiling point over the weekend, and my response was less than graceful (to put it mildly).  As I seethed with irrational anger, followed by the inevitable guilt (I am a 9 on the Enneagram, after all), my wife suggested that it might be a good idea to explore how my commute might be a part of the pilgrimage experience – a sacred journey.

My initial reaction, of course, was to think, “That’s preposterous!  There is no way in the world that I can experience that misery in any kind of meaningful way.”  (Again, being a 9, I focus on those things in life that are pleasant, non-confrontational, comfortable.)  She was, however, absolutely correct in pointing out that pilgrimage is not just nice ramblings through leafy green countryside (even if that countryside is just in my mind as I walk on the treadmill).  Real pilgrimages, real sacred journeys are full of frustration, dangers, “ugly” scenery, and difficult people.  How can I work with that to see what’s sacred in my daily journeys?  How can I approach this very unpleasant task with compassion (for myself and others) and patience?

I’m not sure if I can answer that, but this task will be in parallel to my imaginal pilgrimage.  I could tritely say that all it takes is a change in my attitude (which is not really all that easy, anyway).  But it’s a question I need to answer.  If a spiritual practice is worth anything, it must be as a step in the longer journey of spiritual transformation and growth, however small of a change it might actually effect.  Change doesn’t just happen through “nice” experiences.  In fact, I don’t know that it can happen if we never struggle with our own demons and shortcomings as well as difficulties that come from outside of us.

In the grand scheme of things, a long, stressful commute is a tiny nuisance.  I’m not starving or sleeping out in the cold.  I’m not suffering from major health problems.  Who am I to complain?  And yet, it is a problem I must face and try to become, in some small way, a better version of myself.  I’ll close this post with a quote from the book Thanking & Blessing — the Sacred Art by Jay Marshall.

When you awaken in the morning, remember that you carry the potential to have a positive influence on the day’s activities.  Your interactions each day can be the source of new insights and observations as God reveals creative possibilities about yourself and projects you undertake.  As you move out in to the routines of life, go with the knowledge that the Creator is present all along the way.  Making the morning coffee, commuting to work, conversing with colleagues in the elevator, even the prickly disagreement with a friend all occur in the presence and company of the Divine.  Each moment, therefore, is potentially a sacred moment.  Sacramental living lives and acts with some awareness of the fullness of time and grandeur of the universe rather than with obsessive fascination with the outcome of the task at hand.  In that present moment, you can serve and be served, you can learn and teach, you can witness and bear witness to the movement and leading of the Holy in that moment. (p. 48)

Amen.  Now, how to practice that “sacramental living” while stuck in traffic in Buckhead…

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An Imaginal Pilgrimage (Part 1)

In just under three weeks, Ash Wednesday will mark the beginning of Lent, a time of preparation for the great feast of Easter. Traditionally, the preparation has included “simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God.” Before the feast, there was the fast. It was intended to call to mind the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert after his baptism.

Most of us think of “giving things up” when we think of Lent. In other words, I might choose to give up something I really like to eat or drink, say, chocolate or soft drinks. Another person might give up television or video games. A lot of the emphasis, at least traditionally, seems to be on intentionally suffering, perhaps as a way to feel in some small way the pain of Jesus’ suffering.

While I don’t think fasting from certain things as a way of spiritual preparation is a bad idea, I’ve always preferred the practice of Father Charles Burton, the priest at the Church of the Good Shepherd when I was a teenager. He admonished us to “take something on” at Lent. Perhaps one could take up a prayer practice, for example, lectio divina or centering prayer. Or one could begin to volunteer at a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen. It could also be something like a healthy habit, such as exercising regularly or getting more sleep. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to try both approaches – letting go of the old and embracing the new — at the same time. Ideally, there should be something new and positive brought into our lives, even if that is just a new perspective.

This year for Lent I’ve decided to go on a pilgrimage, specifically St. Cuthbert’s Way, the pathway from Melrose in Scotland to Holy Island (or Lindisfarne) in England. Now, I’m not actually going to fly to the UK and walk the actual route. For one thing, I don’t have the money to fly over, and, for another, I don’t have the time to take off from work. This pilgrimage is one that I am calling an “imaginal pilgrimage.” I will be walking the 62.5 miles of St. Cuthbert’s Way on a treadmill at my local YMCA.

As part of this undertaking, I will be preparing appropriate music and imagery (taken from pictures made of the route) while I walk. I plan to walk 10.6 miles per week, finishing on Maundy Thursday. During that time, I will also be studying and meditating on the meaning of pilgrimage and how pilgrimage, however it is made, can become a prayer of the whole body. At the same time, I want to explore how can I make a pilgrimage to the margins, meeting my brothers and sisters there while making my walking pilgrimage (more on that in later posts). As my overall guide to the experience, I will be using Charles Foster’s excellent book, The Sacred Journey.

I’m not sure this will work, but I’m willing to give it a shot. If nothing else, it can’t hurt to get the exercise. I will also be attempting to post about what I may be learning on this blog at least twice a week. I hope you will join me.

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