“Because of the dog’s joyfulness,” says Mary Oliver “our own is increased. It is no small gift.” Many people will understand this. Quite a few won't. Nat Johnson ("singstress, maverick, fighter") certainly does if her song Dog is anything to go by - see her official video below. Murphy would agree. Below the video are pictures of his (+ our) stay in the Landmark Trust's Culloden Tower in Richmond, North Yorkshire. It was a brilliant holiday.
To be a ‘pilgrim’ means to be a traveller. The root meaning is ‘to come from afar’. And the direction of travel is towards a holy place.
Little harm is done, and often much good is found, in this traditional model of pilgrimage: of leaving our homes and our routines and travelling as an outward expression of our being travellers who are seeking to make God our destination.
And little harm, and often much good is found, in a variation on this established model. We could call it the ‘stay at home’ pilgrimage, but that would be to short-change it. Maybe 'interior pilgrimage': the simple decision to regard ourselves as pilgrims, and to see our everyday lives (at times humdrum, at times exciting, often somewhere between the two) as avenues of pilgrimage. And to see ourselves as embarked upon the adventure of moving towards the holy.
There is only one pre-requisite, and it’s a big one. We have to find a way of leaving behind the small world of our ego and its incessant preoccupations. That applies too, of course, to those geographical and blistered pilgrims pounding the well worn routes. To arrive at Santiago de Compostela, or Rome or Jerusalem with our egos still comfortably in charge means we haven’t travelled very far at all.
The best kind of pilgrim knows from the outset that in order to arrive she must leave something behind. And so it is with that part of ourselves which is endlessly preoccupied with itself and in the process is constantly defining, predicting, judging, whispering, acquiring, defending and expanding. This noisy and always fundamentally fearful part of our make-up has to be firmly patted on the head and told to go to its basket. And the first step is for us to stop identifying with this noisy voice, this ego, which we so often mistakenly identify as our essential self.
Pilgrimage viewed in this way can be undertaken within our usual routines, making them, miraculously, unusual. And it does not even have to be 24/7 as the jargon has it. If that seems too much, be a pilgrim every Tuesday and see what happens. Pilgrimage is a way of seeing differently, and of journeying towards greater awareness of God and God’s world and away from our rather small worlds of ingrained opinions and dubious certainties. It is, fundamentally, the way of following Christ in our lives. And it can be a tremendous adventure.
Observed yesterday on a visit to see someone at St Thomas' Hospital, a sign pointing to the 'Dreadnought Dental Centre'. Inspirationally named.
The Ward I visited offered a panoramic view across the Thames and down on to the Houses of Parliament. A party was in full swing on the terrace. It had been the State Opening earlier in the day, causing severe disruption to travel and traffic. Westminster Bridge was still visibly choked with traffic moving at a gnat's crawl, hours after the event. I pondered the impact on countless people and the environment: missed appointments, longer journeys, extra exhaust fumes messing up the air we breath. All for an event in which a person who by lottery of birth reads a text not of her drafting from a government not really of our electing.