A Neighborhood Pilgrimage
Each day is a series of new steps on my neighborhood pilgrimage.
We often think people make pilgrimages to special places with significant histories. Some people make pilgrimages to Jerusalem, or Rome, or Mecca, or Canterbury, or into the desert. It is easy for us to begin to believe a pilgrimage is about arriving at a particular destination.
Sometimes we get turned around and assume our pilgrimage is about following a path on a map.
My neighborhood pilgrimage is not about where I am going or which route I take. My pilgrimage happens within me. It is about how I pay attention to what I see and hear as I walk in my neighborhood.
The neighborhood in which I am a pilgrim is not a physical wilderness. There are pharmacies and grocery stores, schools and places where people work. There is at least one florist, which fills the air with the aromas of flowers. Coffee shops and restaurants also perfume my neighborhood.
My neighborhood includes some obstacles. There is plenty of traffic and a commuter train station.
My neighborhood pilgrimage often includes walking to pick up a prescription, or carry-out meals, or the library. A few moths ago I my pilgrimage included dropping off my ballot for the election.
Last week I made a special pilgrimage through my neighborhood to receive a vaccination.
My neighborhood has become familiar as I walk in it. One challenge of a pilgrimage is continuing to pay attention even when we have seen our surroundings again and again.
Making a neighborhood pilgrimage is like looking into a kaleidoscope. As we take a step it presents us with a constantly changing variety of pictures. Each step can be the first step in a new adventure, a new pilgrimage.
A Neighborhood Pilgrimage Indoors
There have been long stretches of days during the last year when my pilgrimage has been indoors.
Some of us were anxious about the pandemic and found it comforting to stay at home. Others of us were told to stay at home except for essential trips.
Now some of us are as afraid of potential attacks by people reacting to the color of our skin and we stay at home.
It is sad for us to be anxious or afraid, and wrong when other people do things to make us afraid. Fear and anxiety have driven many of us into our homes. We do not treat our time at home like the pilgrimage it can be.
I try not to allow my own need to stay indoors at home to become another obstacle to neighborhood pilgrimage. It usually requires me to be more careful, but I work hard to continue my pilgrimage, even staying indoors.
Many of us are tempted to close ourselves off and become numb to our surroundings, even at home. We get focused on some goal we want to accomplish or task we would like to complete. Our houses allow us to close our doors and stop paying attention to everything around us.
We get stuck as we trudge along, trying to complete each day’s walking and only pay attention to our destination.
It is easy for us to try to drown out anything to which we might pay attention.
As we make our neighborhood pilgrimage in our own homes, we need time to stop and listen.
Each step is more than a way to get closer to the end of our pilgrimage. We realize, when we pay attention, our pilgrimage will last for the rest of our lives. There is no way to finish early.
A Neighborhood Pilgrimage Is Not a Race
Our neighborhood pilgrimage is not a race.
There are similarities. Planning and preparation are important. Breathing is essential. We train and practice each day. Each step has lessons to teach us. Sometimes we develop a rhythm or find the zone.
There are also significant differences.
Our neighborhood pilgrimage is neither a marathon nor a sprint. It is not a competition with anyone else or even with our own best effort. Our pilgrimage is not about improving our technique, winning a medal, or proving anything to anyone. It is not even about receiving a new shirt.
Our pilgrimage is not about gaining speed over a distance toward a goal. It is not about winning.
The point of our neighborhood pilgrimage is to pay attention on our journey.
Neighborhood pilgrimage is about becoming. Our journey shows us our true selves in new depth, and we share ourselves with the people we meet who are on pilgrimages of their own. We gain experience and insight, not speed. We share the wisdom we gather, and we inspire each other to continue.
It does not matter how long it takes us because there is no finish line to cross.
My Neighborhood Pilgrimage
Sometimes I have a specific place I am trying to go, a task I am trying to complete. Other times I hope to spend some time listening to my neighborhood.
My neighborhood speaks many languages. The birds talk to themselves, and to each other. There is a flock of parrots which have been released into the wild which shows up most evenings. Dogs have their own language.
Then there are the people.
I often listen to four or five different languages on my neighborhood pilgrimage. This is a neighborhood full of people, and people from all over the world.
A pilgrimage is an excellent opportunity to set aside the burdens we carry and grow into new ways of living. There is no need for us to continue carrying the expectations which have shaped us. We can leave them behind.
Each step on my pilgrimage is an invitation into something new, something different. I ponder as I walk, or as I stop to pay attention and listen.
The leaves on the trees, the birds flying past, the other people walking, each invite me.
How will we make a neighborhood pilgrimage today?
When will we continue our neighborhood pilgrimage this week?
[Image by bobba_dwj]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He has served as an assistant district attorney, an associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.