Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Canterbury, 29.4.06: Pilgrimage and the Whole Grab-Bag Selft

Calling a trip a pilgrimage has this advantage: it frees one to let happen what will happen. I like that sense of freedom, of not having to decide from day to day what I should see and do.

Ironically, if one considers a pilgrimage a response to God’s guiding hand, it’s freedom one is giving up. One remains open, supple, disponible, responsive to a will transcending one’s own.

I’m not sure if—for a long time!—I’ve believed in that kind of puppet-master God pulling all the strings. Such a God is always male, and always a tyrant.

The only variation in these puppet-master theologies is whether they tyrant is benign or, well, tyrannical . . . .

Yet I’m loath to give up the idea that God guides us. Amazing things happen, “coincidences.” Doors open. Injustice is reversed. Flowers spring forth in the unlikeliest places.

I picture the God accomplishing this (with us) as a more feminine force, weaving the woof on the warp of our freedom. And with leading strings of love . . . .

Surrounded as I write this in Atlanta airport by a bevy of soldiers, all in camouflage. Where are they going? ON the flight from Little Rock, a soldier in regular clothes told Steve he’s headed to Puerto Rico “to help our boys down there.”

Why? Is something we don’t know going on “down there”? Is Bush’s response to his plummeting poll numbers going to be to beef up military presence in Latin America—in other words, while mouthing support for illegal immigrants, cynically to exploit our fear of contamination at the borders (Mary Douglas’s Purity and Danger is so enlightening on that point).

Things—our culture—seem more militarized than I ever recall. And yet we’re not at war—not in the engrossing sense of World War II, in which the whole nation was involved.

The military presence is especially pronounced in every airport we go to. Again, entry points, orifices: a symbolic gesture to remind us to remain on guard, to remember that we now need Big Papa (God’s emissary) to guard and protect us.

The flight here: horrendous. Steve said he can’t remember being on one so bad in a long time. I don’t think I can ever recall such a flight. It made turbulence and rough air sound like warm milk beside a hot toddy.

Things feel apocalyptic now. People look . . . odd—either messengers sent to pass on a cryptic warning, or menacing watchers.

Of course, I realize this has much to do with my mental state. If so, what does that state (and what it opens me to) portend for pilgrimage?

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Somewhere in the Atlantic approaching England. I’ve slept little and fitfully, but what sleep I got was at least moderately refreshing.

Why pilgrimage now? Why me? At one level, the answer is obvious. I just am not who I was a few years ago.

Which is to say, not sure who I am . . . . Aging, moving to death, yes.

I’ve been through a wreck. I lived. I’m not quite the same, though.

I’ve had lesions detected in my lungs. They’re apparently benign. But. They’re there, and what do they mean? Intimations of mortality?

Above all, we’re facing a move I absolutely don’t want to make. And yet everything tells me I should do so.

If nothing else, “my” life is hardly in my control. And I need guidance, strength, clarity.

Pilgrimage has to be about a lot more. Pilgrims who set off on the road to Canterbury in the middle ages, for instance: just as I do, they surely brought a whole grab bag full of petitions and thanksgivings along with them.

They brought their whole grab-bag self, rejoicing, muttering, praying, cursing, scratching, farting, kneeling.

If Chaucer tells us anything, he certainly tells us that. He tells us they went a-pilgrimage as much for a change of pace, and of scenery, as for pious adventure.

And who knows what they found along the way, each of them? And what I’ll find?

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