Packing Lightly

Chapter 2, The Soul of a Pilgrim

Reading and Reflecting

Pilgrimage demands preparation, so you will have to discern what to carry with  us and what to leave behind. This is one of the great gifts of pilgrimage –  an invitation to discern what is essential. 

This may involve broadening your vision for what you carry. What are the things you want to carry with you and what are the things (both tangible and intangible) you can lay down for this season ahead? Think about what kinds of attitudes, beliefs, expectations, and stories you tell about yourself that you don’t need to keep any longer.

Reflect: What keeps you from the great adventure life is calling you to? What are the logical or practical explanations that get in your way? What needs to be released to travel more lightly?

The desert monks focused on asceticism as a way to let go of attachments and discern what is really important. Asceticism, at its heart center, is about letting go of everything that keeps us from God and interferes with our journey toward authentic freedom. 

The root of the word “monk” is monos, which means one or single: it is about the condition of one’s heart. “Integrity” has the same root as the words “integral” and “integrated”: integritatem means wholeness and soundness. When we act with integrity, it means we are always moving toward wholeness and oneness. We seek to avoid being divided.

In ascetism, fasting is an invitation to authentic freedom. We refrain from not just food, but whatever might hinder us in our search for God’s face. We might consider, as a part of this pilgrimage, fasting from ideas that keep us from truly living or thoughts that don’t nourish us in spirit. We release ideas about ourselves that keep us from everything we can be in our lives.

Reflect: From what ideas and images of yourself do you need to fast? Imagine yourself setting aside those ideas and images just for this season. What does that feel like?

What are the ideas and attitudes, from your past or in the present, that keep you from entering fully into a life with God? What stories have you told yourself that are limiting?

As seekers, we tend to acquire books and attend retreats, seminars, and webinars to gather ideas from others whom we deem to be wiser than ourselves. We might need to fast from books and the idea that we need more information so we can feel complete. 

Buying more and more books may be a way in which we avoid our own wisdom by relying on the words of others.

Reflect: The invitation from the desert elders is to practice simplicity. When we find this simplicity, they believed, we find true life. Name one or two ways you can practice simplicity.

To Practice

Claiming your Own Symbol

One traditional symbol for the pilgrim’s journey is the scallop shell. The grooves on the shell represent the different journeys we take as pilgrims. Just as all the separate grooves meet at the end of the shell, so do all of our paths meet in the same place. The journey of a pilgrimage is about returning home with a new awareness of what home really means.

Another symbol pilgrims carried with them is the pilgrim’s staff, a walking stick offering support for the journey.

What symbol will you claim – it can be the scallop shell or walking stick or something of your choosing –  to remind you daily that you are on a pilgrimage in this season of your life?

Your Guidebook

Pilgrims would often carry a small book called a vade mecum, which in Latin means “go with me.” The guidebook is a sort scrapbook that holds prayers, wisdom, and maps for the journey. Very often, the pilgrims would create symbols on the pages to remind them of their way.

Craft for yourself a guidebook of some sort. It can be your journal or a new journal for this pilgrimage. Or it can be a container of some sort, a special box or bowl. This will be a holding space for the words and images that come your way. This process calls you to pay attention to the way symbols and images emerge in the world around you.

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