For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Saturday, 29 November 2008

A Hard Road


There is almost an expectation that a pilgrimage needs to contain a challenging physical ingredient in order for it to be a pilgrimage at all. It is as if the physicality of the experience is part of the defining experience of a pilgrimage. Without the hardship, a journey, even if undertaken for spiritual motives, comes much closer to a holiday or outing. So, in a strange way, the pilgrim rejoices in the dangers, difficulties and hardships. The toil of the journey enables the pilgrim to identify with the sufferings of Christ.

There seems also to be a strange relationship between the spiritual and the physical. To challenge the physical dimension, by denying the usual tendency to indulge the needs and desires of the body, can allow the spiritual space in which to grow. Clearly there is not an inevitable connection between hardship and spiritual growth but the growth of the spirit can come in such a way. Christians sometimes refer to this connection as the mortification of the flesh.

The same kind of idea lies behind the concept of penance. At one level it would seem ridiculous for the creator of the universe to require a truly repentent person to undergo physical hardship. Yet the spiritual does not always operate at the purely cerebral level. The experience of physical hardship and even pain can be therapeutic from a psychological and spiritual perspective. Many of those who go on pilgrimage embrace the hardships as a legitimate part of the experience and not merely as an inconvenience. Thus for some, the physical encounter is at least in part a matter of penance. For many it is a stimulus towards spiritual growth.

From Sacred Places, Pilgrim Paths: An Anthology Of Pilgrimage by MARTIN ROBINSON.

I mixed with loose women in Reno/ In Vegas I hit the casino/I lied and I cheated/But now my sins are deleted/I've absolved them all on the Camino!

The photo shows my Créanciale, or Credancial, or pilgrim passport.

3 comments:

The Weaver of Grass said...

Love the limerick - there is an element of truth in it I believe.Looking back on my childhood there was a man in our village who had been a great womaniser and had fathered several children, who looked very like him. In later years he turned to religion and spent hours in prayer in the church - villagers were not impressed!

Elizabeth said...

You are the first blogger(other than me!) to name Sebald as amongst your favorite writers.
Yes, walking about is very good for the soul.

The Solitary Walker said...

Sebald is a wonderful writer - but perhaps too quirky and rambling for the popular taste.