Prepare to Yield. That’s what the sign flashed when we entered the departure lanes at Cincinnati/Northern KY International Airport yesterday (was that only yesterday?) afternoon. Other than Whan that Aprille with his shoures shoote, I can’t think of a more apt start to a pilgrimage. That’s what pilgrims are called to do, after all—to yield themselves to God’s will and the vicissitudes of the road, to let the Spirit blow them where the Spirit wills, to break down those resistances of pride and control and luxury the way weight-bearing exercise breaks down muscle tissue for the body’s own own good.
And yielding is an especially important quality to emulate when we speak of a Marian pilgrimage. While on this journey, I’m rereading Caryll Houselander’s The Reed of God, one of the loveliest books about Mary ever written, by one of the loveliest writers too few Catholics know. Houselander explores many aspects of Mary’s life we might emulate, but I’m most struck by her yieldingness. Describing Mary as the reed that becomes the flute, Houselander says:
The reed grows by the streams. It is the simplest of things, but it must be cut by the sharp knife, hollowed out, and the stops must be cut in it; it must be shaped and pierced before it can utter the shepherd’s song. It is the narrowest emptiness in the world, but the little read utters infinite music.
We’re here for these 10 days—80+ of us, and you who walk beside us—to prepare to yield, to become more like the reed of God, Mary our Mother. And each one of us, as the stories are already beginning to tell, carries marks of the knife, is being hollowed out bit by bit in simple ways and complicated ones. A dire diagnosis. A promise to a loved one lost. A crippling fear. A call to vocation that seems to require giving up one’s dancing shoes. A relationship in desperate need of healing, but with no clues how to go about it. A life in retirement seeking purpose. For each story I know, there five times as many hidden in hearts. That’s how pilgrimage works.
And every petty inconvenience—a broken tooth, forgotten shoes, the long lines, the heat, the misplaced luggage, the disturbed meal times and sleep times and prayer times—works on us like the flutemaker cutting stops, chipping away at who we think we are. We are being made into Mary’s kenosis—the narrowest emptiness in the world, the yielding green music of the reed. We can hardly complain, though we (or I, at least, perverse and foolish oft) will go on doing it.
Yesterday before the flight from Cincinnati, some 35 of us gathered for Mass at the Cathedral. We got special prayerbooks and simple wooden pilgrim rosaries. We had a tour afterwards, pilgrims seeing our own homeland anew, and then headed out to meet up with the rest of the Cincy contingent (a couple of others joined us in Paris) to spend the night suspended over the Atlantic, a miracle all in itself when you think about what medieval pilgrims had to cope with.
Your intentions are in our prayers, sleepy and achey as they may be at this point. Here’s the prayer I composed that we’ll pray together (when the bag with the prayer booklets finally catches up with us). Please pray along with us, and yield to the flutemaker’s hand.
A PRAYER OF PILGRIMS
God our Father,
you call each of us on the journey of faith that is our lives.
As we travel in company on this pilgrimage,
we ask you to open our eyes and ears to your presence with us on the road.
May we meet you in the people we encounter,
as you would have them meet you in us.
Keep us kind, patient, and good-humored with one another,
and safe from danger and anxiety as we travel.
Bless those who guide and minister to us on the way,
and surround with your care our loved ones at home.
As we visit the shrines of Mary, our Blessed Mother,
and follow in the footsteps of pilgrims who have gone before us,
may we always be led by her, the true Guide of Pilgrims,
to behold the face of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.
Through him and through your Holy Spirit, we praise and thank you,
and we look forward to coming home to you forever
when our earthly journey is complete.
Santiago de Compostela, Patron of Pilgrims, pray for us!
NEXT: Pilgrimage, Day 1 (Lisbon to Fatima, via Santarem)