The Treasure: How Pilgrimage Cultivates a Connection to Place through Permanence

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I am thrilled to be preparing to deliver a paper at William & Mary College next week at their annual symposia on Pilgrimage Studies. In many aspects, this opportunity feels very much like a pilgrimage journey in and of itself. A couple years ago I received an invitation to submit a proposal for this particular academic gathering, which very much felt like the call, the requisite summons of any meaningful pilgrimage. However, life circumstances prevented the manifestation of that opportunity until now. And so I have the opportunity to seek the wisdom gained these past couple years as I have journeyed through the descent, the time of darkness and disintegration that occurs when a journey is truly leaving its indelible mark on you, and prepare for my arrival. 

In this setting my claim will be my belief that the act of pilgrimage is a practice of profound place-making. Using Uri Shulevitz’s children’s book, The Treasure as my primary text, I argue that pilgrimage doesn’t set our longing heart in the direction of far-off sacred spaces to find resurrection within a celestial kingdom; rather, it roots us even deeper into our homescapes as the return requires creating meaningful places for the community to connect. While the journey is indeed important to return to a posture of collective provision within one’s community, it is critical to note that that within this story (and very much like in our own lives), the protagonist Isaac could not have even made the journey without a deep knowledge of, and connection to, his place. Because he knows where he is, he is able to get to where he needs to go, and ultimately, to return.

We too must know our local landscapes well enough so that when it is time fulfill the call of a dream, we know how to navigate the land and engage with strangers in such a way as to not get lost. Engaging in regular practices of listening in place, where you unplug from your device and hear (really hear), and see (really see) the people and places that surround you and create the fabric of your home-land provides the most elemental conditions for co-creating places that provide for deep and meaningful community connection. For these are the very places and people who will receive the boon of your journey, the great gift that is given in exchange for the courage to respond to the call. Your community will receive the gift of your permanence.

If you do not have this book in your library, I encourage you to get yourself a copy. It is simple, delightful, and profound. And I hope your own copy of The Treasure, along with the following abstract for my paper, will inspire how your journeys will ultimately root you deeper into your neighborhoods.

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The Treasure: How Pilgrimage Cultivates a Connection to Place through Permanence

 While the practice of pilgrimage is undergoing a resurgence, church authorities haven’t always been enthusiastic.  Critics, like Jerome, thought it ludicrous that prayers offered in one place could be more effective than prayers offered elsewhere: “Nothing is lacking to your faith though you have not seen Jerusalem.”  However, what if in the very leaving of our houses to engage the Divine, we actually return back to it not only more connected to our Sacred Source, but also more invested in our place on this planet through a commitment to faithful permanence?

Uri Shulevitz’s Caldecott Honor awarded book, The Treasure (1978) provides the archetypal stages of pilgrimage in a condensed child-friendly, but enormously profound, way.  However, what makes this story unique, and its great gift to us as readers and practicers of pilgrimage, is the invitation to see that the true treasure for which we are seeking on pilgrimage is always back at home, in both a literal and metaphorical sense.  Isaac, Shulevitz’s primary character discovers that the treasure about which he has dreamt, and for which he has searched, resides in the essence of his home: underneath his hearth-place.  This finding compels him to invest further in his community through sharing his treasure with others near and far. 

By looking at the ancient practice of pilgrimage through the lens of The Treasure, we can gain new insight on how this practice actually encourages one to become more rooted and connected to personal home-scapes: the neighborhood, local communities, and regional ecosystems.  Patterns of narcissistic consumption of places and relationships have resulted in transitory lifestyles.  Impermanence—a result of the provisional value of things accorded by the evanescence of social media—is valued over the tenacity required to remain. Isaac embodies the sort of rootedness, which is an outcome of the journey, that can effectively transform an ambiguous and meaningless space into one of deep meaning and wisdom.

The difference between a space and a place is the difference between a house and a home.  Isaac leaves his house seeking; he returns to find his treasure has always been there and testifies to that wisdom by building a place of public worship; a place of deep and significant meaning that invites others in his community to be welcomed, to return, and to tell others about the wisdom encountered there.  This is a true place, a home created and maintained by the initial dream to journey away-from.

In Isaac’s initial poverty, one can find themes of how impoverished the Western world is in our normative independence and isolation.  Soul-less technology, especially screens and social media, further this distance from ourselves and one another.  Through the journeying out to the places that call to us from our deepest dreams and psyches, connection with others is found.  This connection and sharing of dreams is what can spur the return back to whence we came, rediscover meaning, and re-engage in practices that powerfully connect people to one another and their place.

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Trials and Trails that Wound: How We Learn from the Dragon

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We are coming into the season of Michaelmas, the ancient festival time of St. Michael who is connected to myths and lore around harvest abundance and more prominently, dragons. St. Michael is an archetypal representation of our inner light and courage that is called forth when scarcity is nigh. This scarcity and its corresponding fear is our dragon, one that we all must meet.

Since the birth of my fourth child, Cannon, and the years in his wake I have found I’m asking how I befriend the dragon–the one that lives in the dark woods of our innermost journey, the one that can claw and snatch. It feels that within the realm of the feminine, there is an invitation that goes beyond conquering to that of kinship. I spoke about this idea at my graduation ceremony, very much having this archetypal myth in mind.

Yes, dragons and the dark woods within which they live, can scar us. But instead of killing the beast in return, can we learn to ride the dragon, and see our scars as sacred?


Learning from the Dragon’s Fiery Fury

We each accepted the call to come here, and with this acceptance in many ways we disappeared from the world, descending into the mysterious, archetypal dark wood. This is the stage of the journey where the epic work of self-reflection takes place with the purpose of renewal and discovery.

This is the time of tests and trials, which serve as fortifiers as we learn to rely upon companions as well as our own developing abilities to move to and through suffering. This requisite stage brings one into the darkest chamber of the heart, a place filled with trauma and treasure, a place through which one must trod to manifest the deeply held desire for transformation.

This is the stumbling along the hard, dark path-time. The descent is disorienting, destabilizing, and in a word: deconstructing. This isn’t just the stuff of legends. This is life well-lived, and it is a quest of meaning-making and discovery. And like any good transformative adventure, there are dragons.

Joseph Campbell would say that this is the part of the journey when dragons emerge from the shadowy wood and must be slain…but this isn’t the way at The Seattle School. Here we have gained knowledge and tools to encounter the dragon. How will we engage its various forms, listen to its terrifying tales, and learn from its fiery fury? For only when we begin to reconstruct together new ways of being through the recovery and discovery of lost pieces of ourselves will we find that the dragon actually becomes a vehicle towards our well-being: here we learn how to train, and ride, dragons.

But first we must find the unknown path, an endeavor that requires much.   This is the way of walking through the woods—an arduous journey winding through unfamiliar territory, trying to find the way through, all of which requires endurance, stamina…and inevitably, brokenness. Our brokenness becomes the path back into being.

Here in the dark woods, we trip and fall—scraping, breaking, bruising our way through the requisite phase of finding.

This is the sacred Holy Saturday time where the woods keep silence and watch.

I thought that I met my dragon when I began the work of confronting my story four years ago in the first year foundational course Faith, Hope and Love…the thing that I would primarily fight and wrest…and while that did indeed occur, it proved itself to be more of an entrance to an even darker wood, a longer labyrinth, and one that demanded that I find out who I truly am when the demands of the journey turn treacherous. This is what I now know: the forest forms you.

In the dark of my winter term of my first year at The Seattle School, I became pregnant with our fourth child. This pregnancy proved near fatal for both me and my then-baby who, born too early, was dangerously close to death. As I lay in my own liminal life-shadow, he needed resuscitation, and was placed in NICU for weeks.

We lose much of ourselves during our passage through the dark—in many ways this must occur for the gifts of the transformation to have space to become. 80% of my blood was lost during the emergency birth and replaced with other people’s blood during my reconstructive surgery, creating a much longer and more wearisome journey back to health.

Shortly after I was learning to live with my new wounds, my husband got mono and could barely get out of bed for a month. Then he lost his job and the security of our family’s primary income. By now I remember wondering when this wandering would end—every hard and painful path seemed to be dropping out from underneath us to reveal yet another rocky road.

One dark summer night, with only the street lamp assisting with light, I was harvesting my lavender, hustling it to help put food on the table. While wielding a brand new scythe—and not fully present to its power—I cut a significant portion of my finger off and ended up back in the ER only to begin another long, slow and painful journey to healing. This pain, this part of the dark woods, taught me deep truths about regenerativity—especially as I witnessed my finger literally grow back. Hope indeed is forged in the forest.

I have had to ask the question and face the answer of who would I become after facing such fierce dragons who seemed to cut and jeer in the face of my becoming. How could I befriend the foe and their fire?

It has been said that the wise one limps. You will know wisdom not by one who walks upright, whole, and strong, but one who walks humped and slumped, scarred by the trials and trails that wound.

We gather today, robed with honor, distinction, and wisdom. These robes would say to the world that we are now wisdom-bearers. Ones who have risked much for priceless gain. These robes become your story to steward, not to hoard. May these hoods continue to call forth courage, for this dress required a fight with dragons that will forever remind us of what we have been through, the deep woods through which we have come.

Keep alive the memory of the woods for they have proven to be the greatest of teachers. For deep roots are reached through the forest. And don’t forget the dragon’s fire, fashioned now into foresight. Don’t let it slip from your heart, for that which wounded us has also healed us.

Lest this become a tale forgotten, finger your scars as a reminder of your journey in the case the limp you now bear does not.

May you learn to love your limp and see your scars as sacred as you leave this place, wise from your time in the woods.


Watch the video of Mary DeJong delivering this script at the 2017 Seattle School of Theology & Psychology Commencement ceremony here.

Guidance & Wisdom from the Sacred Wild

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I feel like I’ve been walking towards today for years. It was four years ago that my work with Waymarkers was put in the vault as I left to pursue my Masters in Theology & Culture with a focus in eco-theology from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology.

This journey took me through some of the most wildest of woods where I was taught again and again of the revelatory quality of the natural world, and that the woods are indeed the wisest of teachers. I reflect on themes experienced in these last years during the commencement speech I was asked to give during my graduation ceremony.  You can listen to that here.

Today feels like an emergence from the woods. In many ways I feel like there are open vistas of hope and opportunity before me, inner-landscapes that demanded the requisite journey through the woods. Today I offer my work of Waymarkers anew, infused with the theory, theology, and practice gained in the last four year. Waymarkers is a sacred guidance venture that provides support and frameworks for cultivating connection and communion to and through the natural world.

Waymarkers’ hope is to guide others toward a holistic and harmonious inter-connected life with the more-than-human world through restorative rewilding rituals and pilgrimage practices that recover a way of seeing the sacred in the soil, the stars, and, even in our neighborhood streets.

With Celtic spirituality and sacred ecology providing the framework, Waymarkers offers guidance and support for those who are ready to respond to the call to wander into the sacred wild, seeking wisdom from our interrelated web of life. Without this kind of spiritual formation, there can be no authentic ecological consciousness, because there can be no true sense of the interdependence of all things. We must see the natural world as a sacred Thou, no longer an objectified It. Cultural historian Thomas Berry eloquently insists that “the world is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” To participate in this communion is sacramental, and the elements are all around us, awaiting our participation in our backyards, neighborhoods, our cities and parks, and the hinterlands beyond.

We are placed with a purpose. To not know this is to be without waymarkers, to be displaced.  Waymarkers will journey with you to a way of belonging, to a renewed sense of solid, sacred rooting in the land where you live.

Let’s journey together and discover the wisdom that is rooted in the woods, and wind our way to a place of belonging!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iona: Getting There Well

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The journey itself to Iona makes this place unique; it is long, quite complicated and even relatively uncomfortable for the urbanite who is accustomed to quick and easy travel. This distance provides the perfect pilgrimage process, for it truly requires a removal of oneself from all that is familiar and supplies a lengthy trek-full of obstacles, no doubt! Once there, one finds a sparsely populated island, with almost no cars and a large abbey, whose structure appears to have dropped from the heavens onto this topographically small and relatively insignificant place.

 

Sheep outnumber the residents and the sunlight plays on the hillsides in the most magical ways. One senses almost immediately Iona is indeed a “thin space” – that brushing up against the Divine is inevitable.

It takes time to get to Iona. To start your pilgrimage preparations, think about the itinerary in two parts: TRAVEL TO OBAN and OBAN TO IONA

By Train

 

Trains travel regularly from Edinburgh (Waverley Station) and Glasgow (Queen Street Station) to Oban. This spectacular journey (one of the top rail rides in the world!) takes approximately four hours and the train terminal in Oban is next to the ferry terminal for the Isle of Mull.

Rail Enquiries:
Tel: 08457 484950.
Scotrail (Trains)www.scotrail.co.uk

By Bus

Buses depart from Edinburgh (St. Andrew Square) and Glasgow (Buchanan Street Station) and go directly to the Station Road stop in Oban. The route takes approximately four hours-make sure to pack a snack!

Bus Enquiries:
Tel: 08705 505050 or visit www.travelinescotland.com
Scottish Citylink (Coaches)www.citylink.co.uk

 

About

By Car

From Edinburgh take the M9 to Stirling, then the A84/A85 to Oban.
From Glasgow take the A82 up the side of Loch Lomond to Crianlarich, then the A85 to Oban.
If you are travelling from the north of Scotland the A82 will take you from Inverness to Fort William, then take the A828 to Oban.

Disabled Passengers

For assistance on the railway ring Scotrail (Tel: 0845 605 7021).

 

Recommended accommodations for your overnight in this seaside town

Oban Youth Hostel

www.syha.org.uk/hostels/highlands/oban.aspx

Harbour View Guest House

A lovely and affordable B&B in Oban within walking distance from the train and ferry.

Dilys McDougall at dilysmcdougall@aol.com

Tel: 011-44-1631-563-462
Harbour View
Shore Street
Oban, Argyll
PA34 4LQ

Ferry Service to Mull

 

The ferry from Oban to Craignure on Mull takes forty minutes. Walk on passengers should arrive within an hours time of departure, and make sure to give yourself time to pick up a fresh seafood sandwich at a local fish monger booth near the ferry-delicious! Cars need to check in at least thirty minutes before departure and advanced tickets is strongly recommended during the summer season and public holidays.

Ferry enquiries: contact the ferry operators Caledonian MacBrayne (Tel: 08705 650000) or visit their website www.calmac.co.uk

Across Mull

Tour buses will pick up passengers in a lot just off of the ferry departure area and bring them to the ferry terminal at Fionnphort; these bus times generally coincide with the Mull and Iona ferries. There is a sweet little gift shop and restroom facilities to visit-if there is time before the bus departs!

 

About

 

It takes approximately one hour to drive across the Ross of Mull from Craignure to Fionnphort, where the ferry leaves for Iona. Visitors cars are NOT allowed on Iona, but there is free car parking at the Columba Centre in Fionnphort, minutes from the ferry terminal.

For bus enquiries: Tel: 01631 566809 or visit www.bowmanstours.co.uk orwww.travelinescotland.com or Tel: 01546 604695 or Email: public.transport@argyll-bute.gov.uk

 

Ferry to Iona

The bus will drop you off at Fionnphort. There is a ten minute passenger (walk-on only) ferry that crosses the Sound of Mull landing at the pier in the village of Iona. In the Winter some ferries need to be reserved the day before travel.

Telephone the CalMac Craignure office on: 01680 612343 or visit www.calmac.co.uk/destinations/iona.htm

Disabled Passengers

For assistance on the ferry ring your departure terminal: CalMac Oban (Tel: 01631 566688) or Craignure (Tel: 01680 612343).

You have arrived to Iona, the place that has called to you! Savor your arrival.

 

Emergence

This is merely a note to awaken you to what is emerging here at Waymarkers. I graduated with my Masters in Theology & Culture from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology and a specialization in Thomas Berry’s Universe Story from Yale University this past June. In these past years, my studies, research, and writing have all reached towards Waymarkers in some way, shape, or fashion, wondering about how my learnings would integrate into my work that shows up in the world wide web through Waymarkers.  These summer months have seen this wonderings become more clarified, and these emergences will begin to show themselves through a new website and offerings, expanded writing themes beyond that of pilgrimage, and engagement with theories around ecotheology, sacred ecology, and a reverence for creation as the dwelling place for the divine.

I hope this is enough to pique your interest and that you will feel invited to journey along with me upon paths that will take us deeper into the wilds where Creator can be heard speaking through all created things.

A Sacred Journey, Part 3-Coming Home, A Strange Return

Friends,

I’ve been blessed by this invitation to guest-blog at A Sacred Journey and share some of my thoughts and reflections on pilgrimage and Iona.  Today’s post is the last of my three-part series as the “Pilgrim in Residence.”  In this piece, I share what I have sifted down as the essential impetus for going on pilgrimage, but a value that can only be confronted upon returning home.  We leave searching for something great and beyond ourselves.  We return to find that much of what we had left in search for, is found just beyond our doorsteps when we engage and live on behalf of something other than ourselves.

I invite you to read, and reflect with me on the gift that pilgrimage both brings about for our souls as well for the greater communities all around us.

Click on the image below to be taken to the NEW POST at A Sacred Journey.

Godspeed!

Mary

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