Monday, July 27, 2009

Pilgrimage: When Roaming About is Good for the Soul

"Something to bring back to show
you have been there: a lock of God's
hair, stolen from him while he was
asleep; a photograph of the garden
of the spirit. As has been said,
the point of traveling is not
to arrive but to return home
laden with pollen you shall work up
into honey the mind feeds on.
R. J. Thomas

What kind of honey will this pilgrimage produce? I have been home from Rome for a week and a half, a very intense, busy time of volunteers and meetings. But I also have the sense of still having a foot in an alternative time and reality, carrying the gifts of a sacred time and space.

Benedict frowns on travel for his monks, at least travel without permission. He designs the monastery to be self-contained. “Then there will be no need for the monks to roam outside, because this is not at all good for their souls.” (RB 66:7) I suppose for all of us an aimless “roaming,” born of an inner antsiness, a desire to stave off boredom or simply be titillated by some new and unique thing, is indeed bad for our souls. Pilgrimage though is an inner stretching to see God in new ways and to be open to God doing the work of transformation in us. I think Benedict would appreciate this kind of travel.

To be in Rome and visit the sites of Benedict and Scholastica was an experience of standing on the shoulders of giants. We owe our faith to the men and women before us who lived, suffered, rejoiced and died with the integrity of their beliefs and search for God. It is humbling to visit sites of people who gave up everything for their faith, who paved the way for us who now walk easily on the road of faith.

In the company of about thirty other Benedictine women from North America, Australia and India I had a chance to appreciate the great heritage we have as Christians, as sons and daughters of Benedict. I came back with a sense of both gratitude and caution. Seeing multiple, rich, elaborate churches is a caution that Jesus’ radical option for the poor and marginalized cannot and should not be buried in baroque grandiosity. I also experienced deep gratitude that the church, this often limping and clueless collection of pilgrims on the way, is still struggling mightily to live out Jesus’ call to bring about the Reign of God in the world.

In the days ahead I will share more specific stories of the roaming (Rome-in) about that was good for my soul.