It all started on May 24, 2015, when my pilgrimage trip to Assisi, Italy began. Or maybe it really started on July 18, 1953, when my life began. Either way, the idea of pilgrimage – the experience of travel for the sake of finding God – has been deep in me for the last several months. Active in my thinking and reflecting, alive in my prayer, this idea of pilgrimage is infusing my life experience daily.
This summer, in my daily morning devotional time, I have been reading To the Field of Stars: A Pilgrim’s Journey to Santiago de Compostela, by Kevin A. Codd. I discovered this book on our summer reading bookshelf – a collection of books left here by various family members as a resource for reading while here at our cottage. It’s an eclectic collection – many of them favorites of ours, some of them books that are culturally popular. My eldest has long held a fascination for the camino de Santiago, a medieval pilgrimage route from southern France to northwest Spain. She and I have talked about this many times – imagining how we might walk this pilgrimage route together – and Codd’s book is one that she had read and left on the summer reading shelf.
As I continued to reflect on my late Spring pilgrimage trip to Assisi, I was drawn to this book when I arrived at our cottage this summer. Each short chapter is a reflection on a day’s portion of the author’s walk from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela, a journey of some 500 miles. I quickly got into a rhythm of reading one chapter as part of my invitation to the day. Each chapter has felt like a deep, rich, very special bite of chocolate – each one lingering on my soul’s tongue for the whole day. I’m almost at the end – so sad (along with the author) that I’m almost finished; and, at the same time, holding a rich resource of images, ideas, invitations, to take with me going forward.
The most enduring and recognizable symbol of the Camino de Santiago is the scallop shell. Many, if not most, of the pilgrims who walk the Camino, have a scallop shell with them along the way. Signposts bear the symbol as well. There are many stories about the significance of the shell; in the midst of the stories is the knowledge that the scallop shell is often found on the shores of Galicia, near Santiago de Compostela.
There are a few symbols that one finds in Assisi, representing St. Francis. One of them is the dove – a sign of peace. The life
and ministry of St. Francis were grounded in peace – a longing for peace among people; teaching peace as he traveled; modeling peace as the faithful, if not unlikely, leader of a growing community of followers. Wanting to take home a memento of my trip, of Assisi and St. Francis, and an ongoing reminder to me of my experience, I purchased a small, simple, necklace – a thin, black cord with a small dove made of local olive wood. I leave it out on my dresser so I see it regularly during the day; and I wear it often. I want to remember. I want to see my life, itself, as pilgrimage.
So for today – invitation. While my life pilgrimage has been underway for 62 years, I want to regularly look at it with the heart of a pilgrim. What will my experience of God be today? What signs, experiences, people join me today and how do they help me know myself, and God with me?