Posts Tagged 'pilgrimage'

Fill Your Heart with Joy: The Journey of Pilgrimage at Home

By Chuck McCorkle, Jackson Droney, and Margaret Benefiel

A pilgrimage is a journey, of experience if not of geography, into new and seemingly uncharted territory. . . With vision somewhat more clear as a result of the journey, one can discover a richness within one’s own heritage which had previously been overlooked. . . [O]ur pilgrimage is taking us home. – Gerald May, Pilgrimage Home

No matter how short the distances and familiar the route you travel on a given day, you can do it as a pilgrim. . . Whether the journey is within your own backyard or takes you to the other side of the world, the potential is there for the greatest of adventures: a journey not only toward [God] but also with [God]. – Jim Forest, The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life

In this season of Epiphany, we recognize the Magi as the first pilgrims of the Christian era. Following the light of a new star in the heavens, they were led, through unfamiliar lands, to the place where it shone on a young child, and they rejoiced and were filled with great joy. This first pilgrimage can serve as a guide for us. When we suspend the activities of daily life to travel and seek out the light of the world we also will be rewarded. But how do we accomplish this when we are home in quarantine and our travels are limited?

In times of pestilence and warfare, early pilgrims were forced to find safer alternatives to travel, and many walked the labyrinth, like the one embedded in the floor of Chartres Cathedral, in symbolic pilgrimage. Unlike a maze, which is designed with deceptive turns leading nowhere, all turns in a labyrinth lead the pilgrim toward the center, toward God, allowing one to free oneself of worry and to delight in the journey.

How then might we reimagine pilgrimage during this time of COVID-19? Can we open ourselves to the movement of the spirit and imagine entering into a sacred space of beauty and deep spiritual inspiration in a journey safely close to home?

The inspirational messages of the saints that continue to resonate and inspire are certainly not confined by location. And since our options for travel remain limited, we, like early pilgrims in times of plague, have been planning safe alternatives to our in-person pilgrimages. In our other programs and activities, we are finding that virtual technologies (like Zoom) can offer creative ways to build sacred community. Large group activities help bind us together while small groups allow for more intimate sharing and discovery.

Pilgrimages provide structures and companionship which enrich and encourage personal and community journeys, journeying closer to God. We invite you on such a journey with us as we embark on a virtual pilgrimage and walk in the footsteps of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi in May.

As the stories of these saints unfold, the glorious art which echoes their lives can be explored in new and creative ways and used as inspiration for a contemplative practice based upon these images. Designated private time for journaling and reflection helps deepen the personal experience. We will support one another in making space in our lives and locations for this journey and, with the aid of labyrinthlocator.com, we can find local labyrinths to walk as part of our collective journey. We are excited and energized as we reimagine pilgrimage to meet these challenging times. There is the possibility of being filled with great joy.

Won’t you consider joining us on Zoom as we safely walk in the footsteps of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi in May?

An earlier version of this article first appeared in the Shalem eNews, January 2021. Used with permission.

Following in the Footsteps of Francis

St. Francis at San Damiano, looking out over the valley in Assisi, Umbria, Italy

Photo credit: Margaret Benefiel

Ancient stones, steep stairs, and sparkling fresh air greeted me upon arrival in Assisi, Italy, a month ago. Lush olive groves, leaves iridescent in the sun, offset the city stones. “What sort of place is this, that shaped St. Francis 800 years ago?” I asked myself. Eager to deepen my understanding of the saint, I had returned to Assisi to walk in the footsteps of St. Francis.

Profligate playboy, drama king, dejected knight, young Francis lived life large. He grew up in turbulent times, with civic unrest in Assisi and war with nearby Perugia surrounding him. Returning from a year as a prisoner of war in Perugia, sick and weak, Francis drifted. When he sold his cloth merchant father’s wares to repair a church, his father chained him in punishment. Francis stripped in public, denouncing his father. Unlikely material for a saint.

Yet God shaped Francis over time, and Francis yielded. A simple saint, Francis wanted one thing. Nothing but God, he proclaimed, shedding all else. He chose a life of simplicity, serving the poor, and calling the church to reform.

I watch with interest as Pope Francis embarks on his first trip to Assisi tomorrow, a pilgrimage with eight cardinals, to celebrate the feast day of St. Francis. Pope Francis will walk in the footsteps of the saint as he visits various Franciscan sites. I picture the places he will visit and wonder what impact they will have on him. At the same time, Pope Francis teaches me what it means to walk in the footsteps of St. Francis as I re-enter my life in a twenty-first-century, North American world.

Eschewing the pomp of the papacy, Pope Francis, like St. Francis, has chosen simplicity. He lives in the modest Vatican guest house, for example, instead of in the papal suite in the Apostolic Palace where his predecessors lived. Furthermore, Pope Francis, like St. Francis, has made it his priority to serve the poor and preach peace. Everywhere he goes, he seeks out marginalized people for his services and conversations. He advocates the use of empty convents as refugee shelters rather than income-generating hotels. He took a stand for peace in Syria and around the world, exclaiming, “Never again war! We want to be men and women of peace.”

Finally, Pope Francis, like St. Francis, is reforming the church. He has dedicated the first three days of October to meeting with the eight cardinals who will work with him on reforming the Vatican administration, restructuring the church to serve the world rather than itself. It is no coincidence that this is the group that will travel to Assisi tomorrow, drawing inspiration from one of the greatest reformers of the church, who, like them, lived in a time of materialism, violence, and a self-serving church.

Tomorrow, Pope Francis walks in St. Francis’ footsteps in Assisi. The next day, he will continue to show us what it looks like to walk in St. Francis’ footsteps in our world today. May our imaginations be ignited with the possibilities he inspires.