Even though the time clock is ticking on my memoir deadlines, I took time out this summer to travel. In July my husband and I traveled to Turkey and Greece, an amazing experience for both of us which I described in a previous post.
After returning from that trip and hosting our whole family for a weekend in July,
I got on another jet and flew to London, this time to meet two other friends whom I first got to know as we entered our first college presidencies in 1996. We met at the Harvard Seminar for New Presidents 16 years ago and discussed forming a subgroup of women presidents. Together with several other women, we formed a group that met all through the late ’90’s and continues to this day even though none of us serves in the original role that took us to Cambridge in 1996.
I went with these two friends to England July 18-30, 2012, ending the trip on my 64th birthday.
Janet was our leader for this trip. She had dreamed about a sabbatical that would deepen her understanding of what it means to be a twenty-first century pilgrim by retracing the steps of many medieval pilgrims and returning to the lands of her ancestors in the British Isles. As pastor of First Mennonite Church of Urbana, Illinois, Janet applied to the Lilly Endowment’s National Clergy Renewal program for support for this vision. She included Anne and me for part of her sabbatical in her application.
As trusted friends, the three of us have helped each other listen to the still small voice within. But we have never before had the luxury of spending so much time — nearly two weeks — both together and alone. When we talked on the phone (we live in three different states — Illinois, North Carolina, and Virginia) recently, we reflected on the amazing depth of this experience and the easy rhythms of conversation, planning, logistical support, and documentation.
We divided the labor of the trip according to our gifts and interests with very little discussion needed to ascertain what these were. And when something needed to be done, any one of us could, and did, step up.
Janet gave Anne and me a little booklet called Pilgrim’s Guide & Journal from the gift shop at Canterbury Cathedral, the final destination of our pilgrimage. This extraordinary little book is intended to serve as a guide to pilgrimage.
The word pilgrim itself derive from the Latin peregrinus (per, through + ager, field, land).
Our itinerary led us through many landscapes and cityscapes, many fields and streets. We used BritRail passes:
July 18-21, London (I stayed at the West End Doubletree); British Museum, Stanford’s Book Shoppe, Covent Garden, the National Portrait Gallery, Russell Square Park, Bloomsbury, the National Gallery
July 21-22 Salisbury (Cathedral and Stonehenge)
July 22-23 Oxford (stay at Somerville College, Cathedral, Botanic Gardens)
July 23-25 York (stay at Bar Convent, Cathedral, Museum,)
July 25-26 Norwich (stay at All Hallows Guest House next to St. Julian’s Church, mass next to Cell, Cathedral and labyrinth, Julian Museum)
July 26 (train to Bearsted, where we began our walking pilgrimage on the ancient Pilgrim’s Way path. Stayed at Black Horse Inn; left our luggage there and took only our backpacks and guide book and map.)
July 27 walked to Charing. Our B & B was doublebooked, so we were put up at the local Holiday Inn.
Saturday July 28 from Charing to Canterbury. An enchanted path.
Sunday July 29 Worship in Canterbury Cathedral. Explore the grounds and bookshop. Fish and chips dinner. wonderful breakfasts at Augustine’s B &B
Monday July 30 (my birthday) take train back to Bearsted to pick up luggage. Then return thru Victoria Station to Heathrow Airport. By 10 p.m. Home in Virginia.
Here is a group of slides in chronological order. It’s a pilgrimage in itself. Pour yourself a cup of tea, break open a madeleine, and walk through the land with the three women pilgrims.
According to the Pilgrim’s Guide booklet, pilgrimage involves six stages:
1. The Yearning
3. The Journey
4. The Arrival
5. The Sacred Experience
6. The Return
It will take months, possibly years, to fully comprehend the impact of one relatively short trip. In my next posts, however, I will attempt to answer a few of my own questions, using the six stages above. How is a pilgrimage different from a tour? What does it mean to be a pilgrim as a writer? As a human being? How do I nurture the feeling of deep gratitude and connection to God and all of life, so vibrant in England, continuing on a daily basis?
Readers, what would you like to know about this journey? What experience do you have with pilgrimage, both literal and metaphorical? What impact has walking on land, visiting holy places, meeting strangers, saying prayers, had on your writing? Do you have a pilgrim hero?