How do we keep sacred memories alive? How to make the journey part of our lives once we are back in the daily grind? – Phil Cousineau
We had worn bright, nearly neon, orange shirts during the course of our pilgrimage. The back of the shirts bore the image of a mountain goat and, in Latin, the words: Persequi Essentia Hircum, which translates roughly to Pursue Goatness. After reading a story about the Tour du Mont-Blanc (TMB) in The Wall Street Journal, the beloved Swede had designed and ordered these for each member on this year’s pilgrimage team .The writer, self-described as no fitness enthusiast, suggested that estimated trail times listed in TMB hiking guides had to have been based on those recorded by Olympic-trained mountain goats.
In the company of my fellow pilgrims I had completed my journey, having walked in a large circle around Mount Blanc and returned to the place I had begun. Including my pre-trip hikes with the Swede, and given the particular variants and sections of trail I had hiked, I had traveled roughly ninety miles by foot. I had been given opportunity to witness staggering beauty, ponder God’s word, and taste, touch, and hear of his goodness. I had made new friends and developed something akin to quad muscles. I had laughed, and I had cried.
But what, if anything, had I learned?
Our leaders had planned a celebratory dinner for us on the last evening together before we were to depart and go our separate ways. Before the dinner, we gathered one last time to consider what gift, what treasure, each had found during the journey.
Stan, our meteorologist friend, spoke of his delight in observing the weather in that alpine region. Even the no-good, cloudy, foggy, misty, rainy days, (okay, those might not have been his exact words) the kind which had unnerved me the day prior, provided the nourishment the ground needed to produce the abundant flowering beauty we had enjoyed.
The very thing which had frustrated me, it turns out, had also been the source of my blessing.
I’m not sure I expected to learn anything new during the course of this trip. I’ve been a student of Scripture all my life. I know what I know. Sometimes, however, it seems I need to learn the same lessons over and over again:
- All of life is pilgrimage
- And it ain’t no ride on a pink duck
- But I dwell always in God’s presence
- And each step I take is a gift; each step forward is a victory
- Fellow pilgrims add joy to the journey
- There really is a monster, one bent on keeping me from the deepest longing of my heart
- I’ve been given a scarlet thread I can cling to, one which will lead me home
- Those things which frustrate me most are very likely the source of abundant blessing
- And whatever measure of goatness I achieved was actually given, not earned, according to the pleasure of the One who gave it.
Since returning home from this experience, I’ve been reading books about Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). ADD is a not-so-merry traveler which has decided to hitchhike its way along in the journey of several people I care about deeply. Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo, both of whom have ADD, co-authored a book in which they describe their condition as feeling, at times, as though one foot was nailed to the floor. They felt as though they were walking around in circles, attempting to learn the same life lessons over and over again. Yet, they continued:
What can seem like movement without progress may actually be just gradual progress. . . . Sure, we’ve been coming around to a very familiar situation again, but haven’t we moved up a level, maybe ever so slightly? What looks like “returning full circle” if we only notice the length and width of our path, becomes a spiral that keeps moving upward with each cycle when we see its height. Like ascending a spiral staircase, we may find that we have been going upward at the same time we were winding around the center.
I’d walked in a huge circle, tested theological constructs I carry around in my head, and exposed my weaknesses in mind, body, and soul. This experience on pilgrimage reminded me of my need to stop drink deeply and often while on ascent, from the stream of restoring grace.
I returned to JFK, my suitcase filled with souvenirs and no small amount of Swiss chocolate. Almost immediately, crowds, noise, and exhaustion threatened to undo the deep soul rest I’d experienced in the mountains. So I decided to write these little stories. I wrote them for me, to help me to remember. Some of you have joined me in the journey, reading along with me through these posts. I am grateful for your kind words along the way.
These words are my boon, the gift I found in the journey.
. . . the pilgrim feels a different call and is changed by the journey. The deepest of those changes is the need to share the gold, the wisdom, the boon of the journey. . . . The story that we bring back from our journeys is the boon. It is the gift of grace that was passed to us in the heart of our journey. – Phil Cousineau
This is the final post in my pilgrimage series. Click here to read from the beginning.
Spaces are available for next year’s Alpine Pilgrimage, hosted by the Coalition for Christian Outreach. For more information, click here. If this middle-aged, gray-haired grandma-to-be can do it, so can you.
Cousineau, Phil. The Art of Pilgrimage: A Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred (p. 217, 222). Kindle Edition.
Kelly, Kate and Peggy Ramundo. You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! New York: Scribner, 2006, p. 419.