Saturday, August 19, 2017

Going On Pilgrimage

On one episode of Vikings, the King of Wessex sends a small boy and his father on pilgrimage to see the pope.  They will walk 12 miles a day for over 500 days.

And I thought, I need to go on pilgrimage.

Obviously, I can't take that kind of time.  I could take a couple of days.

So, Josh and I are going on pilgrimage to Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri, where we hope to see the solar eclipse in totality.

A journey to witness totality definitely sounds like a pilgrimage, don't you think?

But I suspect it may not happen. The forecast calls for stormy weather on Monday, and tomorrow, in Missouri, temperatures will be in the nineties, with plenty of humidity.

However, I am in need of a pilgrimage.  And what makes a pilgrimage a pilgrimage?

Is it seeing totality?  Or is it driving for five or six hours with a bad knee and no assurance of a campsite or vacancy in a roadside hotel?

Is it seeing the pope, or setting up camp in the sweltering heat with expectations of storms in the morning?

I have been to many sacred places in my life. I have shared water with ascetics en route to sacred Hindu sites. I have walked among a river of mountain villagers on their way to the ocean for their annual spiritual cleansing. I have hiked to Muktinath. I have visited the Bahai mother temple. I have visited the Vatican. I have heard mass at St. Paul's Cathedral. I have toured Shakespeare's Globe Theater. I have been to Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers fell.

But a true pilgrimage should have all three elements:

1. The intention to go on pilgrimage
2. A lot of effort involved in getting there
3. A goal or destination that is both geographical and spiritual

Most of the sacred Buddhist sites I visited just happened to be part of my journey. They were not my goal or destination. I walked to the ocean with the mountain villagers, but it wasn't my pilgrimage, it was theirs. I knew that Muktinath was a sacred place for Hindus and Buddhists, but to me, it was just a place on the map. The Bahai temple--a tourist destination.

I viewed the Vatican as a tourist destination, but was completely overwhelmed by its spiritual force as I crossed the threshold of St. Peter's and beheld Michelangelo's statue of Mary with Jesus on her lap and in her arms.

Tomorrow, I set out on a pilgrimage with Josh. He doesn't know it's a pilgrimage, so for him it won't really be a pilgrimage; but for me, it will be, because it meets my three criteria.

I know, there's a slim chance of actually seeing the sun in the sky on Monday; but sometimes the weather predicts storms, and the storms arrive late and pass quickly. It is for the universe to determine whether we shall see totality or any part of the eclipse. I accept our odds, and the likelihood of disappointment. (So does Josh--he's very excited to go camping.)

Whether or not I see the eclipse will not detract from the nature of my pilgrimage.

Why do I want to go on pilgrimage?

To leave behind for a while the trappings of my life, along with all its attendant concerns...

Maybe nothing more than that.

I expect I will be uncomfortable. I expect I will not sleep well.  I do not expect to see the eclipse.  I do not expect to have an epiphany.

I do feel the need to go on pilgrimage.

Undoubtedly, I'll report back.

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