A Musing Table: "Pilgrim...Simply Another Word for Beloved"

"Give me my scallop-shell of quiet.
My staff of faith to walk upon,
My scrip of joy, immortal diet,
My bottle of Salvation,
My gown of glory (hope's true gage),
And then I'll take my pilgrimage.
–Sir Walter Raleigh

Used to really resist the thought that we were strangers here on earth, pilgrims really, whose "true home" was in heaven. Not that i didn’t long for heaven, but that it felt kind of mean to discount this lovely earthly home we have while we are here. Now i'm not so sure. Not that we should discount our earthly home at all, but more that there is something just so central to this heavenly longing. Something so special in fact that we should nurture it all we can. Keep thinking of that parable of heaven being like the leaven in bread. Our earthly home is perhaps like the bread....and our heavenly longing just might lead us more deeply to the leaven, even while we are here.

So enter the area of pilgrimage. Have just been really fascinated lately with this, and the Medieval traditions there are especially moving (see
here, here). In the earlier part of the middle ages, even cloistered nuns were known to take pilgrimages to well loved sacred places, and even anchoresses sometimes as well (though presumably shorter journies). In both cases though, the journey was seen as kind of an extension of living a sacred life rather than a distraction from it...such a healing perspective.

Folks from all walks of Medieval life loved the area of pilgrimage, and blessed St Helena of course was the ultimate pilgrim... a dream led her to pilgrimage to Jerusalem to find the one true cross itself...talk about a deeply sacred blessing! But other pilgrims didn’t come away empty handed either, at the very least they received these little pewter buttons to put in their pilgrim’s hat at each sacred place they pilgrimaged to, each shrine's button having upon it a lovely symbol for that shrine, it having been blessed beforehand (just like their pilgrims walking staff and purse and such had been blessed beforehand too, such a lovely tradition!). A bit about this, combined from
here and here:

Once at their destinations, pilgrims did as pilgrims do now in leaving votive offerings, such as coins, jewels, and tokens shaped like parts of the body that had been healed or that were in need of healing. In the same way we collect Saints' medals and Holy Cards from shrines, they collected pilgrim "signs" or "badges" which were pinned or sewed on to pilgrim hats. These badges were usually made of pewter, and their design differed according to the place or Saint venerated.

The cross betokened the crusader (though one could also take the cross when his pilgrimage included fighting in the Crusades, for they were carried in the battling of the crusades as well) , bearing the colour of it the nation to which he belonged, the English white, the French red, the Flemish green. The most famous pilgrim badge was (and still is) that worn by travellers to Compostela, Spain (known as "jacquaires"). There, pilgrims would collect scallop-shaped signs in honor of St. James, whose symbol is the cockleshell.

The pilgrim to Jerusalem had two crossed leaves of palm (hence the name "palmer" as another word for pilgrim ). Pilgrims to Rome (known as "romeos") would wear signs shaped like keys or the heads of SS. Peter and Paul, or a badge bearing the image found on St. Veronica's veil, or the keys or the vernicle (this last also might mean Genoa where there was a rival shrine of St. Veronica's veil). Canterbury's pilgrims would wear a bell-shaped badge, or one bearing the likeness of St. Thomas Beckett, or a leaden ampulla filled with water from a well near the tomb tinctured with an infinitesimal drop of the martyr's blood . For those pilgramaging to St. Catherine's tomb on Mount Sinai, the symbol was the wheel. Pilgrims to Walsingham had buttons with the virgin and child; those to Amiens, had a symbol of the head of St. John the Baptist, etc. Then there was the horn of St. Hubert, the comb of St. Blaise, the axe of St. Olave, and so on.

And these little touchstones helped anchor the pilgrimage in a solid way, a way to better "keep" the inner gifts the pilgrimage had offered. And it isn’t the item itself but more the feeling it helps anchor...a stone gathered on ones journey could do the same, or so many things really, the point is that things get “anchored” somehow. It reminds me of that scene in Hinds Feet on High Places where the woman’s stones gathered on her faith journey (gathered at her key experiences during) were turned into the gems of her crown. And they also they somehow remind me of St Julian of Norwich’s image of the hazelnut:

One translation came accross:

“In this vision he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, and it
was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and
thought "What may this be?" And it was generally answered thus: "It is all that is made." I marvelled how it might last, for it seemed it might suddenly have sunk into nothing because of its littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: "It lasts and ever shall, because God loves it."

Another translation:

"And in this the Lord showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand. . .In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God preserves it."–St Julian of Norwich

Also reminds me of the “purple ball” of the abbess St Lioba (St Boniface’s kinswoman), from

“Her life tells, among others, this story: 'She had a dream in which one night she saw a purple thread issuing from her mouth. It seemed to her that when she took hold of it with her hand and tried to draw it out there was no end to it. . . When her hand was full of thread and it still issued from her mouth she rolled it round and round and made a ball of it .' An old and prophetic nun was asked about the meaning of the dream and explained that it referred to Lioba's wise counsels spoken from her heart. 'Furthermore, the ball which she made by rolling it round and round signifies the mystery of the divine teaching, which is set in motion by the words and deeds of those who give instruction and which turns earthwards through active works and heavenwards through contemplation, at one time swinging downwards through compassion for one's neighbour, again swinging upwards through the love of God.'"

And so, whatever anchoring form may result, its the inner gifts really that are treasured the most by the pilgrim...the healings received, the forgiveness, the change of heart, the change of direction. When one is on pilgrimage they are "being walked" rather than leading themselves, they are simply following the road that countless pilgrims before them have made. And it is ~so~ much easier then to let go of self, to release wrong habits, to let the wind of the Spirit blow through ones heart, to open to....well, the heavenly.

Since i've been drawn to this pilgrimage stuff lately, wasn’t too surprised it showed up in a dream last night. But it was about cookies of all things, lol. I had been craving cookies in real life yesterday, and my fiance brought some nice store bought ones (mistyped as nest, hmmm). When we ate them by breaking off pieces at a time, we somehow made a perfect shaped little heart with the last piece, have no idea how that happened, but it left us with a really nice feeling. And i realized later that it wasn’t just the cookies i was craving really, but the thought of actually making them. There is something so special i feel about making cookies, something so moving somehow. This post is my absolute favorite for sharing that wonderful "cookie making" feeling. From it:

"My Mother loves to bake, it is one of the things she does best. As far back as I can remember the kitchen counter had a plate or two of cookies on it. When I recall my childhood home a sweet aroma instantly fills the air...

When my Mother bakes cookies she did it without thinking, certainly like prayer, it was her therapy. She would wake up early, and before going to morning Mass she would crack the eggs, cream the butter with the sugar, add the vanilla...with the recipe in her head. My Mother's hands steady and swift made cookies for those she loved, for those who would come to visit, for those who needed cheering up, for those at the rest home, for the neighbors and anyone who asked her for help. Yes making cookies was her way of giving communion to those of us in need...."

I just love this image! Anyway, back to the the dream, my fiance had wanted cookies and asked if i would bake some. And we went on what turned out to be a little pilgrimage of sorts to get the mix (yes lol a mix...there was a certain special mix in the dream that made the most delicious cookies, better than any other). They didn’t have the mix at the store and so this led us to the home of a woman who tended to have this mix. Turns out she didn’t have it now, but she had something else now, something that was such an amazing gift, an unusual picture on the wall of a young girl and her parents. It was quite a sacred image. The girl is dressed in this kind of dark rose pink, a simple tunic dress. She has on this pilgrim's (ie pilgrimage) hat with this kind of subtle ship on the top. She is looking out excitedly over the horizon, you can just feel her joyful longing for a journey. And her parents are lovingly at her side (one on either side), and it feels like kind of a blessing is being given by them. Her parents are her parents, yet they also feel like Jesus and Mary. And the girl is the girl, yet she also feels like each one of us. I am just glued to this picture in the dream.

When i woke up, something had changed...it wasn’t till later in the day that i realized what. Even though i am drawn to pilgrimage, to journeying (hey, how could a wendy birde not be?), there has also been a real ache there, like journeying meant being abandoned....and a feeling like being here on earth away from heaven meant being abandoned too. Consciously, i don’t think this way exactly, but deep down that’s been a fear. And this dream kind of changed that, hard to explain. But it was something about seeing that sacred image. The girl there, she wasn’t being abandoned but rather blessed. Deep down she was ready for the journey....and her loving parents blessed her way. Perhaps we too have so deeply needed our earthly journey...and have been blessed on our way more than we will ever know. I keep thinking of birds. It is because they have been raised in their nice cozy nest that they long deep down later to fly. They don’t fly because they are being abandoned really, but rather because they have been so beloved....that nesting, that being so loved, has allowed the desire for the journey to eventually come forth. Roots enable wings. And if our roots are in our heavenly home, perhaps we find some very special wings indeed in our earthly pilgrimage. And then (please God) enter when the time is right into an even deeper homecoming heavenward.

Kind of changes the feeling of things....reminding that our passing away is also a homecoming, and also that our earthly life is also a sacred pilgrimage. One savors the moments of a pilgrimage, and one treasures the gifts. And these gifts, they come home with you. Our earthly gifts, the ones kept where all true treasure is, "pondered in the heart", i feel will come with us heavenward.The focus on inner gifts doesn’t necessarily mean the outer part of life doesn’t count, for sometimes it is in doing outer things (cleaning, crafting, etc) that the inner can take root, creating the true "fruit", the
gifts of the Spirit. And too, something about making these gifts more tangible somehow through our experiences or our symbols (much like the symbols on the pilgrim’s cap) helps them take root as well...its like that leaven perhaps in the heaven parable.

This goes back to the whole hands thing too...active type hands but also more reflective peaceful hands as well, both are such healing ways to help the gifts of the Spirit take root. For our own simple lives, either active or reflective, i am realizing can bring us to a place of pilgrimage. When we are going about our domestic duties, or our reflective and contemplative focuses as well, it is like pilgrimaging really. Because once we get going we are not “leading" anymore, we are instead following that well worn path, that path where it is so much easier to "move beyond self", to let the Spirit move us instead. In doing these things that we can quietly simply do, these archetypal things that have been done by our ancestors before us, we are held, we are led, we are walking on a humbly sacred path...a place of pilgrimage.

More than ever, i truly believe the domestic can be the monastic. And that the monastic includes not only the precious gift of the home-as-abbey, but also this amazing gift of life-as-pilgrimage...

(First image source is unknown (its that wonderful
mystery artist) ; and the last two images arefrom Corey Amaro of Tongue in Cheek (here and here)

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