Our Benedictine Pilgrimage to Germany, Austria and Switzerland was both an outer and inner experience of hospitality, history, humor, humility, and heat, and always present in our hearts, home. The H thing was a total coincidence that emerged when I started reflecting on the pilgrimage (Part 4), but I add blessings, opportunities, and challenges to this final reflection as well.
There are too many blessings to count: time with dear friends from home, renewing friendships with those who had gone on pilgrimage five years ago, forming new and deepening relationships with oblates and others, so much laughter, the ritual of daily and morning prayers, a shared experience of faith, the joy and peace of monks and sisters, beautiful art, architecture, history, culture, delicious food, the leadership and positive attitude of Fr. Volker, a true gentleman with a heart for the one who needs compassion and comfort the most—the epitome of hospitality and the most active, energetic man that I have ever met and Fritz Minhard, a gracious, patient, well-informed, problem-solving, loving pilgrimage guide.
The pilgrimage was an opportunity to be attentive to the divine—the beauty of the mountain views, the flowers blooming, the streams flowing through the valleys, the centuries-old buildings and winding pebble stoned streets, the cathedrals and small chapels, the candles and statues, the stained glass and candlelight, the inspiration and resilience to build great and simple buildings to honor the divine. Photo: Abbey of Banz
So Much History
It is astonishing how much history and culture we experienced visiting several World Heritage sites, over a dozen monasteries or abbeys, some dating back to the 8th century when the first monks of St. Benedict set out to evangelize Germany, in the nearly forty churches, chapels or cathedrals, in the art, architecture, old towns, castles, and castle ruins.
We learned about Saints Felicity, Blase, Boniface, Henry, James, Johann, Peter, Otmar, George, Meinrad and of course, Mother Mary and St. Benedict; about the history of the Missionary Benedictines and Fr. Andreas Amrhein; about the time of Charlemagne, the Thirty Years’ War, Secularization, WWII, the Reformation, the Sound of Music and Mozart. We enjoyed Baroque, Medieval, Gothic, Renaissance, German Rococo, Romanesque, and contemporary art and architecture.
This history has lived on in the dynamic energy of the Missionary Benedictine monks and sisters that we met along the way. It was wonderful to reconnect with monks that I had met before: Fr. Christoph of Münsterschwarzach Abbey, Fr. Anastasius at St. Otillien Abbey, Brother Ramon at St. Otmar’s in Switzerland, and to meet Sr. Antonia at Tutzing.
Our monastery memories are some of my favorites—the warm hospitality, stimulating conversation, love of learning, the blending of contemporary and traditional, the joyful, funny, spontaneous demeanor, and the focus on prayer, ritual, and tradition. I am so impressed with the ability of monks and sisters to live the values set down 1500 years ago in the Rule of St. Benedict, and to adapt to what the community needs now.
Hospitality (and Humor)
The hospitality of the monks and sisters was unmatched, but we also experienced hospitality among the pilgrims. We enjoyed over 40 incredible meals, drank a few glasses of wine, beer, or brandy, and ate countless ice cream cones together and laughed a lot.
“While on pilgrimage, we may fool ourselves into thinking that we should be always feeling hopeful or filled with joyful anticipation. Yet, we find that on our journey, we experience wild edges and are pushed well beyond our own boundaries.”–Christine Valters Painter, The Soul of a Pilgrim
But in the spirit of humility, I admit things were not always perfect. There were challenges. I did not always feel hospitable or experience hospitality. Sometimes I just wanted to be alone, to avoid difficult personalities or irritations, to be with my own thoughts, to rest. Sometimes I felt lonely or homesick, miserable from the heat, tired from a hectic schedule, sick from my plugged ears, and irritated from my own coughing. I missed my own bed. In three weeks and three days of travel, I slept no longer than three nights in any one place.
But the gift of the discomfort was to realize that one never knows what another is going through and a good reminder to be merciful always. In hindsight, I realized that small irritations were hardly noticed or dealt with quickly, but by the end of the trip the discomforts had multiplied exponentially. I wasn’t always my best self—I could have been more hospitable or patient, but upon reflection, I understand “this very act of self-judgment actually distances us even further from our deep longing for peace and rest…. When we feel full of judgment for ourselves, the only response is to continue to practice.” (The Soul of a Pilgrim) Discomfort can be a learning tool if for no other reason than we appreciate more fully comfort and peace when it arrives.
FOMO is real—the fear of missing out. With only a short time to visit some places, deciding what to do without worrying about what I was missing or if I would have enough time was a challenge for me. But pilgrimage is an invitation to the present moment of surrender and letting go of our own expectations. A fellow pilgrim shared, “It is amazing to me that I saw so many things but still didn’t see everything. I am trying not to dwell on it, but it saddens me that I may never see some of those things. I guess that is part of the experience too–rejoicing in the blessed experiences and time spent there and grieving over the possibility of never being there again. The grieving actually makes the experiences all the more precious.”
Many pilgrims came as couples—either husband/wife, sisters, or friends—and there were times I felt keenly alone, despite knowing and being close to so many. I missed the comfort of being with my husband or daughter. There were times I felt sensitive about feeling lonely or left out, but I have challenged myself with this insight from The Soul of a Pilgrim— “Taking another route on an inward pilgrimage means challenging some of the routines which keep us stuck. It might be as simple as noticing the stories you tell yourself and asking if they are true.” Most of the time the stories I tell myself are a result of my own fear or anxiety. This too is an opportunity to reflect.
Pictured above: making a new friend in a street artist; Ella, my roommate for the pilgrimage, finds a fan!
I am grateful for a paper fan my cousin Jennifer gave me. It was well used.
As the pilgrimage ended, I was torn between not wanting it to end and wanting to go home. It is the tension between these two where gratitude, reflection and prayer give lasting meaning to the memories.
Home is about the familiar, the soft space of comfort, the people who know you through and through and will not misinterpret what you say and do, they have the history of knowing you beyond a moment in time. I appreciate the spirit of adventure, the experiences of the pilgrimage, and all the blessings it held and I equally appreciate being home.
“The pilgrim returns home not with all the answers. Instead, they receive better questions; questions that bring the pilgrimage experience into daily life and reveal depth in all they see around them.”
Questions for reflection: I have used or adapted many of the questions for reflection from The Soul of a Pilgrim both during and after the pilgrimage:
What would it mean to embrace roadlessness in your own life journey?
Where are the places you cling tightly, wanting to know the direction and outcome?
Can you just allow yourself to be with the uncomfortable feelings without having to fix them or change them in any way?”
Are we never fully satisfied? Are we always concerned about too much or too little?
What lessons am I taking home? What will I carry with me in my soul as the lens to the divine.
What must it be like to never have air conditioning?
What is happening in the inner life of the person who is irritating, unkind or inhospitable?
Why am I patient sometimes and ready to flip my lid the next moment when something pushes me to my edge?
How do we stay awake? How do we drink freely and abundantly? How do we stop holding back?
How do we embrace the home within us that call us to return?
Our prayer for the day of our return home:
A prayer from Betty, our dear oblate friend from Schuyler, was shared on the bus to the airport. It is with this blessing that we take our inner and outer pilgrimage experiences back home.
Heavenly Father, As I come to adore, revere, worship and lovingly trust you I place in your hands a busload, and I’m serious, of your beloved children as they begin their pilgrimage of a lifetime back to their respective homes. Father, please make every mode of transportation safe and easy for them. Have your beautiful angels surrounding that plane keeping the longest part of the journey as stress free and relaxing as possible. May the bonds that have been formed through this time together unite them in a profound way. You always gift Fr. Volker’s tours with a holiness thru the daily masses, sites you created that are burned into their minds, and buildings, especially churches, that were constructed by others using only your floor plans. There is laughter and joy that seems unending at times, an exhaustion that is somehow exhilarating, and feet, that many were sure couldn’t take one more step, the ability to just bounce back. I especially thank you for protecting them and guiding them as they endured a record setting heat wave in Europe. Abba, give them the strength and energy to end this trip exhausted but healthy. Jesus, you really need to be with each one of your brothers and sisters as they return home. Keep your arms around them as they slowly, I hope, return to their routines. Holy Spirit, may the memories each ones brings home with them be kept securely and safely in a treasure box you have prepared in their minds. As time goes by frequently open this box and may a memory or two bring a smile to their faces and make a good gut giggle. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving Fr. Volker the courage and strength to do this one more time. I pray that many blessings were bestowed upon all the pilgrims/sheep from this pilgrimage and they will feel and witness the gifts and fruits throughout the rest of their lives. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.
Jesus I trust in you.