Some thoughts on pilgrimage. Each day I ask myself, Why are we doing this? Why do we put ourselves through this? In a paper entitled “Spirituality for the 21st Century” — a draft of which can be found in the Reading section of this weblog under the tab Journal Articles — my friend Bill Schmidt, an Associate Professor of the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago, writes:
It has long been suggested that pilgrimage is archetypal, namely, that it represents a universal human impulse within human experience. As archetype it has the capacity to rearrange psychic elements thereby producing psychological, spiritual, and social effects. This seeming capacity to rearrange psychic content is why pilgrimage is so universally present in all its many historical and contemporary forms. Pilgrims often seem profoundly compelled to go on their journeys as if an eruption from deep within resonates and intensifies the desire. Most pilgrims know the road will inevitably bring certain hardships and struggles yet this deters few. No true pilgrim considers their journey a vacation, or a disengagement from the challenges of one’s life, but rather a journey toward the transformative possibility that the journey itself contains (pp. 2-3).
Schmidt sees six distinct types of pilgrimage (1) Devotional, (2) Healing, (3) Ritual/Life Cycle, (4) Obligatory, (5) Wandering, and (6) Transformational.
A pilgrimage such as the Ignatian Camino is a limit experience. Physically we approach our limits (in my case I pushed beyond my limits and as a result I have not been able to walk for the past six days). Approaching his or her physical limits forces the pilgrim to slow down and face himself or herself. The Camino may cause a pilgrim’s defences to disintegrate and a new sense of the self and one’s purpose in life may begin to emerge. In this sense pilgrimage is transformational.
Bill has written a book on his experience of walking the Camino Frances. Entitled Walking with Stones: A Spiritual Odessey on the Pilgrimage to Santiago, it is well worth a read. I wrote one of the book teasers for Walking with Stones which appears on the back of Bill’s book. It reads:
Interweaving his own intimate story with spirituality, psychology, and theology, Bill Schmidt provides, in his remarkably frank and vulnerable account of his pilgrimage to Santiago, a means by we might discover our own way through love and life. Be careful when you read this book: it may well tempt you to pull on a pair of boots and hike across Spain in search of God and self.
I guess that is what I am doing — again!
Saint Ignatius understood the transformational nature of a pilgrimage. In fact he called himself “the pilgrim”. For Jesuit novices he envisaged that they would each have the experience of making the full Spiritual Exercises over thirty days but that this was only one element in a broader process of conversion in the novitiate which included working with the sick and dying in a hospital and:
…making a pilgrimage for a further month without money, but rather at appropriate times, begging at doors for love of God our Lord—so that they can get used to eating badly and sleeping badly, and so that, at the same time, leaving aside all the hope and expectation that they might have of money or other created things, they might place it whole-heartedly, with true faith and intense love, in their Creator and Lord (Examen, n. 67.1-2).
Ignatius understood that the graces given in the Spiritual Exercises needed to be consolidated and he saw caring for the sick in hospital and a pilgrimage as two means of doing that.
Today’s walk. On the stage from Alagón to Zaragoza we left behind the tranquil farmlands and crossed over the A-68 highway several times.
Peter Walden writes:
“It was another long walk today of 30.8 kms which we finally completed at 4:20pm. Fortunately the weather was kinder to us today with lower temperatures, cloudy conditions and a cool breeze at our backs. Our first break was the 10 kms mark in a small town called Sobradiel which had beautifully landscaped public buildings and we took the opportunity to get our pilgrim passports stamped there. The group walked well today and covered the first 18.5 kms to our lunch destination in a record time. Our way was a mixture of sealed and unsealed roads which were very stony and uneven in sections. After lunch we only had 12 kms to go and it was not long before we could see the Zaragoza skyline. For the first time we got lost while trying to enter the city because the route had been substantially altered due to recent construction activity. After asking directions we eventually found our way.