Sick Pilgrim’s Progress

Sick Pilgrim’s Progress November 28, 2017

Sick Pilgrim was founded as a space for fellow travelers to rest a while. We’re Catholic, but we write for those who are here in the church with us and those who are attracted to Catholicism but can’t find their way in; for those who have Catholic minds or Catholic aesthetics or Catholic hearts but remain, for whatever reason, outside the church; and for those who feel they must seek outside Catholicism to meet their spiritual needs. We want to invite people in, encourage them to look around, raid the church for treasures, and claim what’s theirs.”

During a tumultuous time, both within and outside of the Sick Pilgrim group, I find it easy to dwell on feelings of betrayal, anger, and brokenheartedness. It’s easy for me to forget that central to the mission of Sick Pilgrim is that italicized word–encourage. Righteous anger is a healthy response to betrayal and hurt. But sometimes dwelling too long in that place of anger and hurt changes our surroundings, so that negativity is all we see.

And holier Christians than I might call that Hell.

So I want to focus on two states in this post- the before and the after of the recent fallout within our community. (Not sure what I mean? Check out the post by our friend Mary on her blog Steel Magnificat here.)

Here is a reminder of Sick Pilgrim’s origin and its progress.

This controversy will not define us.

In light of recent events, we, the community administrators and blog editors, began to wonder if our online community had been a space of further wounding rather than one that promoted spiritual companionship and (our own particular style of) inspiration for artists and seekers. We wondered if we should shut our doors. So I went ahead and asked for firsthand accounts of what, if anything, Sick Pilgrim has done to help those in our online community. 

I heard from several people that the group allowed a nonjudgmental space to explore religious questions and/or doubts:

It helps to know there are people who will listen and acknowledge me when I need to say something which I don’t feel the need to share with everyone. Sick Pilgrim is a place where the messy nature of life is truly acknowledged. There are highs and lows which we can all share together. We can support and help each other, protect each other when needed. That kind of companionship is exactly what is expected and needed in the pilgrimage of life. -Henry Karlson

I have been looking for a place to openly discuss my faith related struggles for such a long time. It is this community that made me comfortable with being confirmed in the Catholic church. I’ve also met so many others who I can relate to. This is a place full of kindness, integrity and respect. It’s priceless to me. -Chris Kirby

Sick Pilgrim reminds me that Jesus loved, stood with, and stood up for real men and women — calling them beyond where they were and promising more than they had, but doing so only by his being where they were for better and for worse. -Father Stephanos Pedrano

I started reading Sick Pilgrim because Jess was one of my favorite writers and fell in love with the different writers and topics. As the year went on, I became part of the community and an occasional contributor, and found that the larger community was a place of laughter, wisdom, and healing for me. I’m thankful for the ways we support each other, even when things are difficult. -Shana Hutchings

I’ve only written here a couple of times, but I hope to do more, and I am so grateful that I was introduced to a writing community that gets me as a catholic with a lot of opinions. I love that I don’t need to hide my weird here. -Jenn Morson Frederick

Others said Sick Pilgrim gave them a spiritual community of fellow travelers, even if they felt they could no longer belong to a church:

Meeting fellow Catholic writers, especially ones not quite sure about the Church of today, with doubts, but also good thoughts and reflections of the saints and Catholic writers who have come and gone before–has had a huge impact on me, on my writing, and how I integrate the Faith into my life and that of my family. You remember the line from the young student to C.S. Lewis, played by Anthony Hopkins, in the film version of Shadowlands. “We read to know we’re not alone.” I come to Sick Pilgrim to know I’m not alone. And that wouldn’t have happened without Rebecca Bratten Weiss and Jessica Mesman Griffith. -John Farrell

[One of my friends] posted something about the TTSG [Trying To Say God] conference. I was in a Mary Karr phase, and newly within driving distance. It’s the first conference I’ve been to in years that talked about Catholicism and things I loved: art, lit, music,a little weirdness. It made me remember why I liked being Catholic at a time where it can be difficult to remember. -Jess Schneider

I met Jessica Mesman Griffith and Rebecca Bratten Weiss, and we started our informal literary collective, the George Sandinistas. We read each other’s work, spur each other on, and help each other develop teaching ideas. Plus, my Approaching Mystery column grew out of Jess encouraging me to teach my online flash memoir course and connect it to a feature on Sick Pilgrim. -Joanna Penn Cooper

Sick Pigrim lets me be a smoldering furnace of agnostic angst without judging me. – John Robinson

I found a community of writers, thinkers, and fellow-travelers in which the conventions l associate with the usual attempts at community (power, silencing, whitewashing) are upended. You can’t do art in those false communities. I can here. Forming the George Sandinistas with Jessica and Joanna gave me the muses l needed just as l was also embarking on a new creative work with Suzanne Lewis. And in this freedom and respect we can truly challenge one another, so SP isn’t like one of those soppy, sloppy writer groups all about surface affirmation, or snuggly-huggly spirituality that never lasts when shit gets hard.
If l hadn’t been in SP while l was being stalked and harassed at work, when l lost my job and was attacked by Lifesite, and was afraid even to go to mass: l don’t know what l would have done. -Rebecca Bratten Weiss

Others reported that, given a space to explore their disillusionment with Christianity American Style, or the darkness they were encountering on their own spiritual paths, they found they could return to the church or complete a conversion process:

When I wandered into Sick Pilgrim a year ago, I was not sure that my faith was going to survive 2016. Disillusionment with the Church was hitting me hard at personal, local, and national levels. In Sick Pilgrim, I found people with whom I could talk about my disillusionment and disappointment. I found people who understood, but who also had hope. In this community I saw abuse dealt with swiftly and decisively. I saw care and concern and support for those suffering. I saw the things I needed to be seeing in the Church as whole. I still have my faith because of SP. It gave me hope when I was reeling from events in my life, and it has continued to give me hope in its response to these events. -Maren Grossman

As my mom was dying in late August and early September, many individuals helped me with words and wisdom, from their experience ushering others into death. It’s not easy stuff to talk about, but it helped me focus on HER and caring for her despite the storm all around me. -Sarah Walsh

One positive at Sick Pilgrim is the utter sincerity of the souls all rowing together toward a greater and a greater influence in our lives. The souls are most often poetic, deeply real, so talented, and filled with genuine kindness. In a time when internet can sometime act like a sewage pipe pouring its offal through ‘the people of earth’s’ computers, Sick Pilgrim strives to be one of the refugios. -Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Sick Pilgrim saved me. It gave me a voice, a home, the tribe I was desperately seeking. – Sarah Babbs

Sick Pilgrim was my only Catholic space for a while. I worried (as it turns out unnecessarily) that too overt Catholic inclinations would lead to me losing my main job. I worried even more as I realized I needed to become Catholic. Sick Pilgrim gave me a space to talk and read about Catholicism without worry of reprisals. Without Sick Pilgrim, both the blog and the group, I might not be Catholic right now, which means I wouldn’t have the exact job that I have right now. -David Russell Mosely

Sick Pilgrim gave me the opportunity and encouragement to write when I assumed that I had missed that chance. I’ve also met some dear friends here, and found support and prayers through my father’s death and some difficult times with our family. I don’t feel pressured to fit a mold here. -Marybeth Chuey Bishop

My friend and I have been talking about church, music, and God for two decades. Last St. Patrick’s Day, he posts a Sick Pilgrim article that I commented on. His response: You should have been there for the conversation that led up to this. Want to meet the writers? What for me was a bit of curiosity about what kind of mischief an old friend was into now, has become a virtual spiritual community for me. It is here that I have found people who welcome my questions without making me feel like a heretic, appreciate my inappropriate sense of humor, and treat me like a writer. I’ve been looking for my tribe for my whole life. Here you are. -Kristen Allen


As for the future of Sick Pilgrim, we hope the best is yet to come.

  1. We (myself and the remaining admins) now have full ownership of the blog on Patheos, and we finally have access to any money that comes from you clicking our posts. This means we can hopefully, finally, begin to pay our contributing writers and visual artists.
  2. We will continue to work with the University of Notre Dame to plan and co-host Trying to Say God 2.0 in Toronto in 2019. We’ll be announcing our keynote speakers in the coming weeks.
  3. We’re co-hosting our first Arts at St. Gregory’s Event in Chicago in February of 2018–with essayist Amy Andrews Alznauer and special musical guests The Stapletons.
  4. Sick Pilgrim community members continue to inspire each other to create and publish new works of art that explores mystery, both individually and collaboratively.
  5. We’re expanding–soon we’ll be launching a full site that will be Sick Pilgrim’s home base, including spiritual writing and creative courses taught by our contributors.

We’re going to continue to speak the dark things out loud–because doing so robs them of some of their dark power. And we’re going to continue to encourage you to encounter mystery and embrace wonder,  believing that the Christ is the source of our wonder. And we can’t stop, won’t stop being a rest for the weary, the vulnerable, the victims of spiritual abuse.

We are all so grateful for the outpouring of support in the last few weeks. We’re stronger for it.

Onward, pilgrims!

Illustration by the mythic Brian C. Jocks.


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