Once I started working on a series of posts about my experience hiking in the Alps, I decided to create a page to keep them all together.
For more information about The Alpine Pilgrimage and the ministry of the CCO, click the following links:
These Boots Are Made for Pilgrimage: How it all began. (Originally published May 7, 2012)
My husband, the beloved Swede, had forwarded an email detailing items which were to be offered at an auction he was planning to attend. He had highlighted a ten-day hike in the Swiss Alps, The Tour du Mont Blanc. The trip was advertised as a pilgrimage, a 105 mile journey by foot, offering travelers time for reflection and for listening to God’s voice.
There were plenty of reasons to say no: an uncertain economy, not knowing our son’s plans for the summer, my husband having no desire to travel to Europe, my being overweight and out of shape.
“It would give us something to work toward together,” we said. Click to continue reading
What makes a pilgrimage sacred is the longing behind the journey . . .
We stood together in a circle, shoulder-to-shoulder, our backpacks filled and hiking poles ready. Many of us were strangers to one another, having been introduced only via email or through mutual friends. Among our group were engineers and artists; a meteorologist, a lawyer, and a dentist; a recent high school graduate and a man who’d traveled in space. We were about to begin a ten-day journey in one another’s company, together walking the trails of the Tour du Mont Blanc.
Alone in my hotel room, I washed snotty middle-aged tears from my face, gave into another good cry, then did it all over again. I was discouraged, having heard I might not be up for the challenge of the next day’s hike. The temptation to wallow in disappointment was fierce. I knew I had only two choices. I could either give into the temptation, which is my default mode, or I could wrestle against it in the only way I knew:
By every word that comes from the mouth of God.
The experience of the pilgrim in actually walking in the way of others enables them to become a participant in all that has happened. The pilgrim becomes one with all who have gone before. – Phil Cousineau
Based on the weather forecast provided by our fellow hiker and meteorologist friend, we began day two with our rain gear and pack covers tucked near the tops of our day packs. We started our morning with a meditation on The Way of the Pilgrim, standing together in a circle outside the baroque-style Notre-Dame De La Gorge chapel.
Our leader asked us to enter the chapel in silence, and to spend some time thinking about those who have walked with us throughout our journeys of faith.
The call to the sacred journey your secret heart longs for won’t come by expectation, will not arrive in a logical way. – Phil Cousineau
“You’ve got to see this,” said Andi, a fellow pilgrim who has both an artist’s eye and a camera with all sorts of fancy lenses she knows how to use.
I followed, point-and-shoot camera phone in hand, wondering what I was about to discover on the other side of the Refuge Des Mottets.
The refuge, a converted dairy farm, is nestled among a number of other farm buildings on either side of a dirt road which passes through the small village of La Ville des Glaciers. Those who live in the village go about daily life much as they have for centuries, I imagine, as hikers travel the road following the Tour du Mont Blanc. One enterprising farmer evidently recognized there was money to be made by offering hot showers, meals, and lodging to hikers passing through his land.
Those who wander into the village are greeted by the music of cow and goat bells clanging and tinkling in thin mountain air. And as I followed Andi, stepping through the opening between the refuge bunkhouse and shower buildings, I discovered an alpine meadow awash in wooly sheep. We watched as two shepherds and their dogs led their flock up and into the hillside for their evening meal.
Imagine the moment of departure as the crossing of a threshold. The anxiety you may feel is the reverse of the thrill of anticipation. Something new is about to happen; something unexpected but transformative. – Phil Cousineau
He began his list while in the car on our way home. After purchasing our spots on the Alpine Pilgrimage, my husband shifted immediately into planning mode. The beloved Swede began forming a mental list of all the equipment he thought we might need. He asked me how many pairs of hiking pants I owned and questioned the condition of my boots. He wondered whether I’d be comfortable using my daughter’s day pack or if I needed one of my own. By the time we arrived home, my husband had already begun mapping out the steps we needed to take to prepare for our journey.
It was January. The trip would not take place until June.
We need to see the monster hidden in the dark recesses of the world’s labyrinthine history; we must remind ourselves there are clews to help us find our way back out again. – Phil Cousineau
Several years ago, while sitting next to my friend Ethel at a women’s conference, I heard a speaker describe her experience participating in a silent retreat. I knew I wouldn’t be able make eye contact with my friend, imagining what would likely happen if we were to try something like that together. We’d probably get kicked out for giggling and generally not being able to behave ourselves. Or we’d need to sneak off to a nearby Starbucks so we could unleash all the ridiculous pent-up words we had running through our heads.
I never claimed to be a model of Christian maturity.
I’m going to be honest here. When I first heard of the concept of walking a labyrinth as a form of spiritual practice, I responded in very much the same way.
The essential task is to feel the thrill of completing your pilgrimage. If we remember that the word thrill originally referred to the vibrations the arrow made when it hits the target, then the pleasure is compounded. There is joy in having arrived, moment by moment. – Phil Cousineau
Dressed from head to toe in Gore Tex rain gear, we began the final full day on pilgrimage with a descent into the Trient Valley. I wasn’t looking forward to hiking in the rain, but I had dragged my gear all the way across the ocean and along with me throughout every step of the journey. I figured there was no point in lugging gear around that I wasn’t planning to use. Besides, I’d seen a description of the day’s hike, both the distance and elevation loss and gain, and figured I could handle it.
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?