The Soul of a Pilgrim, chapter 4
Reading and Reflecting
Chapter 4 calls us to leave our habitual ways of encountering life and follow new paths that beckon us forward. We are accustomed to thinking and acting in certain ways that offer comfort in their familiarity. Now we are asked to trust that God will show us new ways of receiving life that draw us into wholeness and fullness.
A true pilgrimage, says the author, has its own rhythm and momentum. It has secret destinations that reveal themselves as the path unfolds. But we will have to enter the walking path to find those destinations. The way reveals itself as we walk it. Furthermore, this path may involve examining places where wounds and shame dwells and integrate those back into the wholeness of our being.
Walking the pilgrim path with God means letting go of control and our own plans and certainties. We set aside our agendas and allow the spirit to show us what more there is for us when we are open to receive it.
Reflect: What are some of the habitual ways you have of responding to situations that present themselves? What are your usual actions when you are presented with new information? How do you usually make decisions – large ones and small ones? How could you resist thinking and acting out of those old ways and allow space for new ways to think and act?
The Celtic pilgrimage was known as peregrinatio -wandering for the love of God. The ancients often got into a coracle – a small boat without oars or rudder – and allowed it to land where it would. That place, they believed, would be the place that God had drawn them to, where their souls would be most nourished. Thus God became their destination and the path to reach it.
It was an act of relinquishing control and stepping forth in trust of the greater currents that carried them forward.
Reflect: What would it look like for you to give up your small plans and allow God to sweep you into a greater current that would reveal a larger life for you?
The author mentions the idea of following a thread. It is often the case that you find certain themes that resonate with you. Sometimes it is a particular image or phrase or piece of scripture. It is a thread that continues to show up in your life, an “aha” that speaks of God to you. You are encouraged to pay attention to what is unfolding for you around that theme and trust that as a direction to follow.
Some people find that God speaks to them in their dreams. We know that Joseph was guided by dreams that told him when to marry Mary, when to flee to Egypt with the holy family, when to return to their native land.
Reflect: What are the threads that continue to appear in your life? How does God most often speak to you? In poetry? Art? Music? The written word? Nature? What might it look like for you to pay attention to what is unfolding arounds these themes and follow the thread they offer?
Does God speak to you in dreams? With whom can do share your dreams to get some feedback about their meaning?
Pilgrimage often draws us to unfamiliar places. We might be asked to seek out new roads and pathways, unaccustomed routes rather than the usual ones we travel. Our thoughts and habits have a way of keeping us on familiar paths where we are comfortable instead of reaching out and trying new ways, challenging some of the routines that keep us stuck.
What keeps you stuck on familiar paths? What would help you to venture onto some new paths and open yourself to new perspectives?
To practice this week:
Read the closing poem on pages 78-79 of the book. Choose one or two stanzas that speak to you and spend some time with it. What specific action is it calling you to undertake?
From The Art of Pilgrimage – The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred
by Phil Cousineau
From his chapter on The Longing.
Reading old travel books or novels set in faraway places, spinning globes, unfolding maps, playing world music, eating in ethnic restaurants, meeting friends in cafes whose walls hold the soul-talk of decades – all these thing are part of never- ending travel practice, not unlike doing scales on a piano, shooting free throws, or meditating. They are exercises that help lure the longing out of the soul and honor the brooding-over of unhatched ideas for journeys.
But the oldest practice is still the best. Take your soul for a stroll. Long walks, short walks, morning walks, evening walks – whatever for or length it takes. Waking is the best way to get out of your head. Recall the invocation of the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who said, “Above all do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts.” As if in his footsteps, Friedrich Nietzsche also remarked, “Never trust a thought that didn’t come by walking.”
The voice that calls to the pilgrim soul says, “This is the journey we cannot not take” (p. 9)