Pilgrimages Every Day: On Christine Valters Paintner’s ‘The Soul of a Pilgrim’

A dialogue between Piglet and Winnie Pooh points to the fact that adventure can be waiting around every corner.

Piglet asks Pooh, “When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first thing you say to yourself?” To which Pooh replies, “What’s for breakfast?” He then asks his small companion, “What do you say Piglet?” who responds,” “I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” Pooh thinks a moment and then notes, “It’s the same thing.”

BC_TheSoulofaPilgrim_1-2Every day can become a spiritual pilgrimage. You can go on a journey without leaving your house. Your spirit can move as you look out the window at butterflies in the garden, reflect on a book you’re reading, or play an imaginary game with a child. You don’t have to go anywhere to experience the holy. That’s the point of Christine Valters Paintner’s newest book, The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within.

Truth be told, we are all pilgrims. Peregrines on this good earth, whether our journeys take us to Vienna, Austria, or Vienna, Virginia. If we meet the day with an open spirit, almost anything can happen.

Much of the year I spend my days on Cape Cod and, as Christine Valters Painter asserts, I practice “making my way by walking.” I live two miles from the seashore and my church study is a eight-minute walk from the beach. I set out for a beach walk every morning and sometimes take a break during the day to trek from my church study down to the beach. I don’t travel far, but like Piglet, I anticipate an adventure. I find adventure is opening my eyes to scudding clouds, gentle waves, and the activities of an osprey family perched on a platform near Covell’s Beach. For senses that are open, wonder is around every corner or on the other side of each sand dune.

Amazement is as near as our next breath, and as William Blake asserts, for those who have cleansed the doors of perception, everything is infinite.

Christine and John Valters Paintner are pilgrims of the spirit. They have journeyed to new lands, but they recognize that a pilgrimage is more than a matter of distance; it is a way of seeing and living; it is openness to the future, the mysteries of life, and the unknown in ourselves and in the world. Adventure is everywhere and can come to us without prior notice. Yet, we might not notice the daily adventures of life apart from a willingness to open our senses and spirit to life’s novelty.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,

That’s the message Christine Valters Paintner is giving us. Blackberries are delicious and often that’s good enough. Still, for some people, a deeper vision awaits that invites us to see holiness and wonder in the everyday and beauty is unexpected places. The pilgrimage is here in the realm that reminds us that all of us are pilgrims, and none are strangers.

Read an excerpt from The Soul of a Pilgrim at the Patheos Book Club here.

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