Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Quaker Pilgrimage

Last Saturday, I had an opportunity to lead and go on pilgrimage with a group of young high school students and leaders from Carolina Friends School, located near Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  The group was meeting at an week-end long lock-in, where some of the youth could go to one of three groups: a group on being a conscientious objector; a group practicing yoga; and a group on spiritual pilgrimage.

When we all gathered together, the first discussion we had was on the practice of making and carrying a cross.  While other groups--primarily Christian--that I have led have had no problems with the symbol of the cross, that was not the same with this group.  We had a fascinating discussion on the meaning of the cross, especially since some of the youth and leaders were either agnostic or atheists, or that the meaning of the cross had become a violent symbol of hate, used against groups because of their sexual orientation or the color of their skin.  And there was discussion of the roots of Quakerism, and the movement within and among Friends groups who are looking at the roots of Quakerism, such as the biblical charge to "let our light shine" and not be hidden under a bushel.  It was decided by the group that we would not use the cross.

We met at the Chapel Hill Friends Meeting buildings, near the cemetery on the grounds of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.  Buried in this cemetery are the bodies of many Carolina alumni/ae, including Charles Kuralt of CBS-TV fame.  This would be our geographical grounds for our pilgrimage.  After the large cemetery markers (literally small houses) in Spain that we walked among on the way to Santiago de Compestela, our cemeteries seem so small and quaint.  Among the tombstones we walked as we ventured toward a gazebo in the middle of the cemetery.  Many of the litany of prayers I usually use on pilgrimage we changed to reflect the theology and philosophy of the group: thus, the trinitarian language of "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" or "Creator, Christ, and Sustainer," was replaced by "We behold the light within them" and "We hold them up to the light."

By the end of our pilgrimage, as we reflected upon the pilgrimage, we were all amazed and in awe of the great discussion and consensus model of decision making we participated in, and were all thankful for the time to see, even with this new group of pilgrims that are not as Christo-centric or theo-centric, the way we live life as pilgrims amid so many different traditions.

Bien Camino!

Pilgrim Peace, 


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Personal Training, French Lessons, and Teaching Pilgrimage

In the past few weeks I have had the honor and privilege of being trained personally in the weight room of our local YMCA. Noriko, a friend, has taken the basic weight lifting circuit and "bumped it up" a level or two. She has shown me how to engage the muscles I said I wanted to focus on by showing me through example and telling me what I should be doing, while praising me when I do the exercise correctly. For example, while I have prided myself in having a good pair of legs, she showed me new exercises and ways of working muscles I never knew I had. Of course, as a result of the day we worked on my legs, they were jelly for the rest of the day.

What I re-learned from Noriko is a lesson I am constantly re-learning with pilgrimage: it only works by taking people by the hand and showing and telling them, in the very context in which you want them to learn about an art or practice, what is behind the art and act of working-out...and pilgrimage.

Then yesterday, while strolling through the new exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art, Landscapes from the Age of Impressionism, wandering among the works of beautiful art by Monet, Courbet, Renoir, and Childe Hassan, that I almost bumped into three women who were speaking, er, French! By that, I mean two of the women were learning to speak in conversational French by a personal trainer-of-sorts, who was teaching these two women French in front of a French impressionist painting! In other words, as Noriko was teaching me the finer arts of lifting weights in the context of the weight room, the French tutor was teaching French in a very French context, viewing French art!

I proposed, in depth and great detail, the art and act of teaching the gestures of pilgrimage in the context of life's pilgrimage in both CHRISTLY GESTURES (Eerdmans, 2003), and SCHOOL OF THE PILGRIM (W/JKP, 2007). I was reminded of Henry Carse taking Dean and me up to a bluff overlooking the Sinai desert, and asking us, "What is a miracle?" as we looked out over the miracle of God's creation. Our discussion of what is a miracle took place in a land in which the tracts of pilgrimage, including the pathway of Moses and the people of Israel, along with countless Egyptian people, have traipsed. We talked about the miracle of the mountains dancing as more than metaphor but as reality, describing the way mountains shake, rattle, and roll during and after an if they are dancing.

But it was in the midst of the Sinai, taking us by the hand, that Henry taught us a new way of understanding miracle...much like Noriko taught me a new way of understanding my physical exercises, by taking me by the hand and showing me a new way, and the French teacher taught her students the art of speaking conversational French!

Bien camino!

Pilgrim peace,


Friday, November 9, 2007

The School of the Pilgrimage at LaGrange College

I had a fantastic time with the students of LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia yesterday! Thanks to Alvin Lingenfelter, a former student-now colleague in ministry and pilgrimage, who set this pilgrimage experience together.

I began with talking to a large group of students, reading from the book FOLLOW ME! I've begun adding stories of my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compestela in Spain, telling the story of the large incense burner, the botafumeiro, wafting over the crowd of pilgrims seated along the transept, leaving the scent of Jesus on our skin, while protecting the noses of the clergy who had to smell the pilgrims close at hand. I still marvel at the large pendulum swing of the metal beast, gliding through the air with the greatest of ease as it is hoisted by four young men.

This was followed by the true joy of talking with a class of students who had actually read portions of the book SCHOOL OF THE PILGRIM in their Christian education class. It was great to show the power point images that inspired the writing of that book.

I came out of my time with the good people of LaGrange convinced, all the more, of the power of the ideas found in the multivalent practice of pilgrimage!

Bien camino!

Pilgrim peace,