Thursday, July 17, 2014

Defining pilgrimages

"Once theophanies are localized, pilgrimages necessarily follow." — from Pilgrimages in the Catholic Encylopedia

The Stella Maris chapel is across the lake from the Abbey of St. John, where I've was on retreat before heading to a writing workshop at the Collegeville Institute, which is also on St. John's campus.  The trail to the chapel from the abbey guesthouse runs for about 2 miles alongside the lake and along the way there is a sign inviting walkers to "make a pilgrimage" to the chapel

The materials on the chapel on the Saint John's website note that since its most recent renovation it has become less a place of pilgrimage than a destination for a walk.

I set out one afternoon of the retreat, with the chapel as a destination for a walk.  About three-quarters of a mile into the walk, a sign planted firmly in the middle of the trail warned of a closed trail ahead, and pointed toward a detour through the trees that ring the ridge around the lake.  I looked twice, three times at the path that led through a picture perfect marsh, with dragon flies dancing around the cat tails, clear water flowing through and around it, water lilies floating like buoys just offshore.  I imagined the fish and the pollywogs swimming under the surface.  Just how closed was closed, exactly?

Then I imagined walking in wet shoes for the next week and headed up the hill.

Away from the lake's cool breezes, the bugs grew fierce, and the walk more penance than recreation.  How far did you have to walk for something to be a pilgrimage? Was it the walk that made the pilgrim, or the destination?

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