Thursday, October 22, 2009

All My Bags Are Packed...

The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seekers' Guide to Making Travel Sacred
by Philip Cousineau

OK, OK, my bags are not packed yet, but I AM ready to go. The laundry is not done, the cash is not withdrawn from the account, the notes to the kids have not yet been written. BUT, in spite of some persistent worries about things over which I have no control, I do feel spiritually prepared for my trip to Israel, which begins in six days. I have read (and am reading) the suggested materials, am praying for wisdom and openness along the journey, and am meeting early next week with one of my spiritual mentors for a blessing. I'm ready.

The more I read about pilgrimage, the more I realize that I have never experienced anything remotely like it. I'm so grateful that our group had an orientation retreat at which we got to discuss and internalize some of the spiritual dynamics of this trip. I have participated in numerous trips that were meaningful in terms of learning a lot, countless relaxing veg-out vacations, and multiple mission trips that altered the way I look at life. Never before, though, have I traveled specifically to enhance my own contemplative life. I can't wait.

Cousineau has made a career out of pilgrimage. The Art of Pilgrimage is a more serious, more focused version of the blockbuster bestseller Eat, Pray, Love. Not totally, but there are parallels. Cousineau has traveled all over the world, visiting sacred sites, guiding others to those sites, and doing what he can to make the experience of pilgrimage more meaningful for those who choose to participate. The Art of Pilgrimage is, in my opinion, a helpful read before ANY trip. Even one that is not specifically a pilgrimage can be made more joyous and spiritually significant if the traveler is intentional about how he/she participates. Cousineau uses anecdotes of his own travels (and those of others) to illustrate his points, and he is full of practical suggestions for the ways we can make ourselves more open to the presence of the sacred.

One of his admonitions is to be in the moment - to not get too riled up about delays or unexpected changes of plans. Instead, he suggests that we see every twist and turn as an opportunity to spiritually stretch ourselves and perhaps to make connections with someone whom we ordinarily would not notice or pay attention to. This struck home with me. Too often, I am just in too much of a hurry. I am too busy getting to the next place to be where I am right now. So, my commitment to myself for the two weeks of this trip is to do my best to be there. I know I will miss my husband and kids, and the things that I am worried about will not magically disappear. I understand, though, that this trip is a gift, a series of gifts. I intend to unwrap the presence!

Reverent Reader


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