On Pilgrimage and Staying Put

By June 10, 20102010

Driving through the hills of Provence, I spent some time reading Wendell Berry. He has nothing explicitly to do with the curriculum of this educational journey, but every now and then I feel the need to touch base with him. He speaks passionately, knowledgeably, realistically and articulately about local sustainable community development; in other words he is one of our best guides to help us learn or recall the values required to save the world from our typically destructive ways. The last essay began like this:

By an interworking of chance and choice, I have happened to live nearly all my life in a place I don’t remember not knowing. Most of my forebears for the last two hundred years could have said the same thing. I was born to people who knew this place intimately, and I grew up knowing it intimately.

I, on the other hand, live 3000 km from where I was born, and I was born to a mother living halfway around the world from where she was born.

This struck me particularly after our recent trip to Montserrat – an 800 year old monastery on a mountain 50km inland from Barcelona. Monks have cared for this beautiful and delicate mountaintop prilgrimage site with a continuity that is very difficult for my mobile imagination to fathom. We stepped into a basilica just in time to listen to a boys choir whose forerunners have sung there since the 13th century. Previous pilgrims to this site include Ignatius Loyola, who thought he’d spend some time nearby and write a work known as Spiritual Exercises. The value of movement (pilgrimage) and of staying put are paradoxically combined in this place.

Pilgrimage and local continuity  – can we learn from one how to commit to the other? How do we benefit from movement without losing our roots? Will we end this journey more restless or more planted?


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