On Pilgrimage and Back Again

Anxious Bench | 12/15/2019 | Staff
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It’s not your average out-of-office message: gone on pilgrimage, won’t be checking email.

Recently I wrote about Timothy Egan’s new book, A Pilgrimage to Eternity, before myself walking a piece of the Via Francigena with twenty-some twenty-somethings studying at Gordon-in-Orvieto. The students from Gordon College and other church-related institutions are mostly Protestant, making sense of the aesthetics and thoughtways of places heavily shaped by Roman Catholicism. The curriculum from time to time includes a pilgrimage, led by Swiss artist Marie-Dominique Miserez, who was teaching a course in tempera painting while I led a history class.

Participants - Pilgrimage - Hail - Culture - Pilgrimage

Most of the participants in this pilgrimage hail from a culture where pilgrimage is not much done. Announcing it sounds like an affectation, something requiring an excuse. We gave the students cover: they had to do it for their program. We went for three days, from Orvieto to Bolsena to Montefiascone to Viterbo, before returning by train. We all made it back basically safe and sound, though wet from the last day of rain. As Egan discovers, it can be hard to communicate to another person what the experience of pilgrimage has been, much less to speak for others on its significance for them. With due deference to that difficulty, I can try anyway to note four themes recurrent on our sacred journey through historically significant space:

1 We belong to the church, which means the Body of Christ, which is not only our local and disparate congregations: The walk itself strove to be ecumenical, seeking clearer understanding and goodwill among Christians of different kinds. We were inspired in part by Here I Walk, the account by Andrew Wilson and Sarah Hinlicky Wilson of walking Martin Luther’s pilgrimage to Rome on some of the same terrain and more. We hoped, like those writers and like Egan, to...
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