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The Soul of a Pilgrim: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 1

“A pilgrimage is an intentional journey into the experience of unknowing and discomfort for the sake of stripping away preconceived expectations. We grow closer to God beyond our own imagination and ideas.” The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within, Christine Valters Paintner

Recently my Spirit Circle chose to read Christine Valters Paintner’s “The Soul of a Pilgrim”, a book that explores pilgrimage as both an inner and outer journey. Several of us were preparing for “Footsteps of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica,” a Benedictine pilgrimage to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland sponsored by the Benedictine Oblates of Christ the King Priory.

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By definition, a pilgrimage is a sacred journey or holy expedition, but we do not need to travel a great distance to go on pilgrimage. It is more about choosing to be “attentive to the divine at work in our lives through deep listening, patience, opening ourselves to the gifts that arise in the midst of discomfort, and going out to our own inner wild edges to explore new frontiers.”

The purpose of going on a journey “is always to return home carrying the new insight back to everyday life,Paintner writes. “When we take inward and outward journeys, we can be pilgrims as long as we stay open to new experiences.”  A week of hard work, becoming a new parent, losing a loved one, resolving a relationship conflict, or going on a spiritual retreat can all be a pilgrimage if one seeks to learn, reflect and be transformed from the experience.

These insights from the first few chapters and the book “The Soul of a Pilgrim” travel with me on my two-part pilgrimage. First, I visit cousins in Germany and then I join thirty-six other pilgrims to learn more about St. Benedict and to visit sacred sites including churches, monasteries, abbeys, castles, small villages, and large cities.

Three weeks, three days I will be gone. As I journey from Nebraska to Europe, I reflect on both my outer and inner experiences—the people, places, feelings and insights that I encounter on the journey. Continue reading “The Soul of a Pilgrim: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 1”

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No GPS, Just Follow the Star

Just over three years ago, we built a new house on what was the edge of town. We could see the city limits boundary from our backyard. There were empty lots behind us, next to us and across the street. Our address was not listed on Google Maps or detectable by other forms of GPS.

For the first four weeks at our new address, the local cable company claimed they couldn’t connect us to internet and television services (much to the disappointment of my sports-loving husband.) When people came to visit us, we needed to provide directions, not just our street address.

No Google maps or Siri would find us; just good, old-fashioned directions. “Head south on ___street.  Go three more blocks until you reach ___street. Turn right. Go to ____ street, and turn left.” We had a few late arrivals and phone calls from lost friends for several months, but we actually enjoyed being out in the boonies.

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Old barn less than 1/4 mile away from our house

GPS, although so helpful, has become a crutch. I love young people (I teach them; I have one…a daughter), but often it is younger people that just don’t know their directions very well, having relied on technology their entire lives. Continue reading “No GPS, Just Follow the Star”

Many Ways to Pray: Walking a Labyrinth

“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” –Rumi

There are many ways to pray—in song, spoken or written words, silence, creativity, nature and movement, just to mention a few. Paul recommends to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), which is only possible if we are able to connect with our Creator in a variety of ways. We are meant to engage our senses, our whole bodies, in prayer.

I’ve come to appreciate this about the Catholic Mass, even if visitors might think there is a lot of up and down. We genuflect, sit, stand, kneel and bow. These gestures, postures or movement help to bring our whole being into prayerful expression—raising our hands when saying the “Our Father”, making the sign of the cross or receiving the Eucharist allows us to use our bodies in prayer.

lab signIn addition, walking the stations of the cross or a labyrinth, taking a nature hike, or practicing yoga or tai chi are prayerful forms of movement that engage our bodies while quieting our mind. Going away on retreat is an opportunity to explore and practice various forms of prayer.

St. Benedict Center is building a labyrinth modeled after the famous labyrinth in the Cathedral of Chartres, France.  “When the Holy Land was closed to pilgrims in the Middle Ages, labyrinths abounded in the churches of Europe.  They were used to symbolically represent the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Our life is a pilgrimage, a journey to our eternal home with God in heaven.” –Father Thomas Leitner The labyrinth will be completed in late summer or fall. 

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This summer I had the opportunity to pray in many ways while attending an eight-day Ignatian retreat at the Creighton University Retreat Center. Each day, for about an hour, I met with a spiritual director to receive guidance and to share my faith journey; the remainder of the day was spent reflecting on these discussions and praying. One of the ways that I prayed was by walking a labyrinth.

“A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is a symbol of life without meaning, it is an agent of confusion, deception with dead ends that lead you nowhere. But a labyrinth is a symbol of a life of deeper meaning, an on-going sacred journey leading us inward, outward and to greater wholeness.” –Carrie Newcomer Continue reading “Many Ways to Pray: Walking a Labyrinth”

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