The moment I have been anticipating all summer has finally arrived! Today I begin my long trek from Alabama up the East coast and then will hop across the pond to a semester abroad in Cambridge, England. As John Denver sang, “All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go…”
Ok, well as you can see I’m not totally packed yet (can you tell I can’t decide on what shoes to bring). I am still not physically prepared for the journey ahead of me, but I feel as though I have been spiritually preparing for my trip this whole summer. From journaling, to meditation, to research on sacred places, I have been trying to ready myself for the trip ahead.
When I accepted the offer to attend Westcott House seminary at Cambridge this past spring, I wasn’t really sure what I had gotten myself into. I was excited to be traveling again of course, but I hadn’t yet realized that I needed this semester as a time of pilgrimage. However, as soon as I arrived home for the summer, I felt a deep longing to see Scotland. It is as though my soul is being pulled toward this strange land I have never visited. And so, I have been doing what I can to prepare myself for my two week pilgrimage across Scotland before my semester begins in Cambridge.
While proceeding in this preparation, my mentor at the United Methodist church I worked at this summer gave me an amazing book by Phil Cousineau, entitled The Art of Pilgrimage. At first I thought it would be just a few individuals’ reflections on their own pilgrimage journeys, but it was so much more than that! This book opened my eyes to the patience and preparation that must be put into all aspects of pilgrimage. Cousineau writes:
Once the call for pilgrimage is heard, it is time to plan and clarify our intentions. Just as we had to be attentive to identify the source of our longing, so it is now important for the traveler to be clear about the how and when of the journey.
There is a lot of time and effort that I have put into this pilgrimage to Scotland, but such actions will allow me to get the most out of my spiritual adventure.
The reflection on preparation that I most appreciated from the book was the importance of finding a sacred writing of the land I am about to visit. Since I knew I wanted to spend time on the isle of Iona, during my time in Scotland, I chose to bring as my companion on my journey, The Life of St. Columba. This book is a must for me, but I am currently trying to narrow down the stack of books that I would really love to take with me as well for pilgrimages during my time in England (and of course I have to throw a couple travel guides in there as well).
Preparation not only lies in what I bring, but what I don’t bring as well. Pilgrimage should be a time of utmost simplicity. One already carries enough spiritual baggage on such trip that we don’t need the extra stuff physical stuff weighing us down. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” I am trying my best to take this passage to heart, and yet the over–packer in me wants to plan for every possible scenario I may encounter while abroad. Therefore, I have given myself a goal in order to live into this simplicity — one bag, only one suitcase for four months. And during my travels in Scotland I will be taking only my camping backpack, that somehow I think is going to fit in my other suitcase… I guess I’m praying for a miracle here! But I do believe traveling light is traveling wisely.
Hopefully by the time I jump in the car with my mom today, I will have my books narrowed down, my fresh journal in my purse, and my suitcase zipped up without bursting open, but I have yet to identify my last element of preparation. Cousineau urges that the traveler bring an offering for her pilgrimage destination. This is the one area into which I haven’t put much spiritual effort. I want to bring something from this land that will always have a piece of my soul, to the land for which my soul is longing. Any suggestions? Perhaps just writing this post will help me to discern what my offering will be.
And so the journey begins…