Tag Archives: pilgrim

Border Crossings

Dear Sor Juana,

Every time I go cross a border I wonder if I am brave enough to put down my occupation as poet or pilgrim or even writer. My wondering stops when I enter something more benign and less exotic like social worker or administrator. I’ve been tempted to put policy wonk, facilitator, adventurer, mother, daughter, wife or sister as well. And I also wonder why it seems to stump me each time. Being named by others is one thing, naming yourself is another.

The everyday borders we cross down our street where we are a neighbour, resident, postcode denoting more variables about who we might be, let in potential myths or half-truths as well. Getting on and off at various train stations can even bring definition to our status and have qualities bestowed upon us. There are many markers.

I prefer a more chameleon like existence, not always so clearly defined and a bit fudgy around the edges, being able to melt into places, spaces and conversations and I especially like the element of surprise I might bring. Like poetry, a little twist in the tale, can open up a new possibility and provide an insight, liberate an idea that might have been germinating in the darkness. Your response Sor Juana to your critics was to become silent and that would have been a huge surprise as you were feigned for what your vocalised in your poems, plays, letters and teachings. Joining the convent to avoid marriage and to continue your studies, and then applying your learning to address the authorities of the church were also skilful manoeuvres to stay true to your own naming of yourself as a writer and thinker.

Passing through the real and metaphorical borders with grace and grit, whatever name we are given or give ourselves, calls us to an inner stillness to our truest self and that may well cause us to hold the moment with silence.

I-am-a-Poet

Each Step

Dear Sor Juana

The year is unfolding and this time next week I will be far from my homeland close the heart of common origins we share as daughters in the Roman tradition. Preparations for this journey have been slower than most and the whole picture is yet to be fully developed although the colours are beginning to come to life.

Preparation is also the journey – a readiness to hold ambiguity, being open to surprises, awe and wonder – along the way is the task of any pilgrim. Each day is part of the journey and fidelity to each walk each day as a pilgrim means I have to take those steps on foot. Being in the open air, under the sky, with the sounds of the cities, towns, and the quiet spaces along the way all around me. Allowing myself to be infused by the aromas of coffee shops, bakeries, blossoms alongside of nicotine, exhaust fumes and smoke from fires. Remaining open is my daily quest.

You struggled Juana with arrogance and ahh I know that feeling well (especially in moments where I am sure I am surrounded by feeble minded, lily-livered, fearful creatures who don’t know what courage is!) So to remain open and humble is my prayer this week as I take steps to keep grounded and remind myself that preparing slowly is also a journey.

As Robert Frost said the road less travelled by makes a difference every day, so my road less travelled is inviting me to humility and to slow down. Finding a different way to walk has been very real for me this past week or more as I injured my left foot in play and it is now in constant conversation with the rest of my body at one point reminding time to put my feet up and at other times to walk on through the pain, and in doing both finding new ways to tread at all times carrying the consequences of play that brings pain.  Keep walking and keep playing as the path once walked is behind me and the one ahead calls me to tread differently.

 

FINISTERRE

The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea, and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean: no way
to your future now but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water, going where shadows go,
no way to make sense of a world that wouldn’t let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you brought
and light their illumined corners, and to read
them as they drifted through the western light;
to empty your bags; to sort this and to leave that;
to promise what you needed to promise all along,
and to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water’s edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,
no matter how, over the waves.

– David Whyte

shoetree_Wanilla

Shoe Tree Wanilla

 

New Shoes

10 days ago

Any self respecting pilgrim would have left their shoes at the end of their journey. I left mine in Ennis, County Clare. I first put them on when I started going to the gym, almost five years ago, intent on keeping fit enough so that I would be able to be physically and mentally prepared for mid-life and beyond.  The shoes served me well and were obviously good value for money!  They took me to the gym three or four times a week, to the Willunga Farmers Market most Saturday mornings, to countless short trips to familiar places, to far off lands and to the shores of oceans and streams.

After being on The Burren I knew I was going to say goodbye to them in Clare. And with that goodbye,  I would but some new ones in the new world of Dubai on the way home. And that is what I did.

This new journey warrants new shoes.  Ironically the ones I left behind were designed for walking and the label on this new shoe box says they  are designed for running!  I wonder if the shoes are being prophetic?

I thanked the shoes for carrying me this far and explained to them they had done a great job and their wear and tear was evidence of that. The right shoe had lost all its stitching on the toe perhaps channelling the number of times I have wanted to kick someone or something in or out of my way.
My new shoes were bought at one of the many temples to mammon in Dubai during Ramadan – an oxymoron to this reluctant shopper. Dubai is as far as any one could get from Patrick McCormack and the farmers in Clare.
The shoes will need to be broken in and I will reluctantly be back at the gym in a few days  and maintain my original intention and if the shoes are prophetic I will need to be ready.
I come to the end of these 30 days home and rested with the sounds of the pigeons in the distance, hearing The Ashes and with soup bubbling on the stove to comfort and reassure that I am indeed home in body and soul and ready with my new shoes for the next steps on this pilgrimage.
Today
Dear Hildegard, I have just read what I wrote ten days ago; and it has taken me until today to put on my new shoes. Yesterday there was the most glorious of sunrises and Brother Sun was telling me very clearly it is time to start again!
I think my procrastination is about not wanting the old journey or my holiday to end. But this day has come and on they went. One foot in front of the other the only way to walk – baby steps first.  I am remembering the instruction of The Burren, carefully watching where I am going; being mindful to the hidden holes; enjoying the flat land as a moment to relax vigilance and to test the rock for movement first before completely committing to the stride.  The Burren is a challenging spiritual director.  My new shoes will carry me to new territories and help me through familiar ones as well. They will need to be prepared for times when my reluctance will need to be met with patience.  They will need to be ready for times of both safari and pilgrimage.
When the time comes for these shoes to be rested I will have taken them to who knows where and whatever paths I find myself on with them I hope they serve me as well as the old ones.  So in the spirit of John O’Donohue who, it is claimed, could bless a carburettor and bring divinity to the moment, I have been self indulgent and written a little blessing for myself and my new shoes.
Blessing for the Pilgrim’s New Shoes
May the left shoe lead you to clear horizons.
May the right shoe follow in even time.
May they both hold you firmly
May they help you walk; and climb.
May they cup your feet so you feel grounded.
May they hold your ankles so you do not trip.
May they take you near and far
May they help you run; and skip.
May you always know to thank them,
For accompanying you along the way;
And may you let them bring you home safely,
At the end of every night and day.
Morning 25 July 2013

Morning over Willunga 25 July 2013

Sand dunes

I have no idea, Hildegard how the Desert Mothers and Fathers survived out in the heat and the dust! But I did get a glimpse this week of the instruction they might have received by the desert. The sand dunes shift with the winds, ever changing, yet always there. They can’t be tamed or told to sit still, they are restless to be on the breath of God in the ancient land around the Gulf.

Being in Dubai is about as far away from Patrick McCormack in County Clare as humanly possible. It is a place bustling with commerce and aching to be the Hong Kong of the region and it will achieve its ambition very soon. It probably already has in terms of wealth per person! A true melting pot which also has remnants of the baron Star Wars that Jabba the Hut liked to business in- it that is unfair because in this season of Ramadan generosity and courtesy abound in the over 43 degree Celsius temperatures. I think Dubai is what Venice was like five hundred years ago.

Making this my last stop on this pilgrimage provided a hidden meaning not revealed until I got on the plane. I was sat next to a sixteen year old woman who was beautifully adorned in her best clothes, with hands painted and a silver chain holding her veil in place. She was flying for the first time – her only other flight being completed several hours before to get her to Dubai. She had begun her journey though years before fleeing war in the horn of Africa. This night she was going to meet her father and be reunited with other members of her family, her mother placing her on the plane – what a heart wrenching experience that would have been for her mother. She wasn’t sure if she would remember what her father looked like. She told me her name and it means harmony. I thought this was a beautiful present for me to receive – to have harmony sitting next to me!

She asked for my help to fill in the necessary arrival forms and to help her make a phone call to her father if he wasn’t there. I was sure he would be waiting for her at the other end. She completed her form without my help and I just checked it – for her occupation she wrote the word refugee. As it was Ramadan she was fasting and I explained the time zones so she could decide when it would be time to break her fast. The airline was very supportive.When we touched down I said: “Welcome to Australia”. I felt honoured to be the one to be able to say that, knowing full well that she will not experience this welcome everywhere she goes.

When we arrived into Adelaide, we walked together but had to part ways at immigration. After what seemed to me an eternity she came through and I helped her collect her bags as she had requested my assistance in this. All her worldy goods in two bags. The customs officer ushered us through and separated us again. And again I ached hoping there would be no more barriers to her making this journey. Again I had to go on ahead without her.

I emerged from the womb of the customs hall to the usual signs of families with Welcome Home signs, chauffeurs waiting to collect their charges and the promise of tears and hugs. My love was waiting for me and into his arms I was very well received.

I waited to see her emerge too, so that I could be sure that one of the pods of family group belonged to her and her to them. I didn’t have to wait long – she was greeted with great joy – the last of her siblings to come to Australia – having been waiting for more than seven years. I could see an older man and a young man holding her tightly. They were not going to let her go. I watched at distance in tears – witness to a moment that had taken years to be born.

She had told me, on the plane, that she had prayed to her God that she would have help to make this last part of her journey and that God had answered her prayer because I had helped her with her forms. I was the one who had been transformed though, her refugee status serving to support my pilgrimage home. I decided to say goodbye and walked over to her family and shook her fathers hand and looked into his eyes and wished him well. I did the same to her. I was weeping for their joy.

As our car left the carpark, we drove past them walking to their vehicle and there were smiles all round and a final wave between us all. My first thoughts were to her mother back in Nairobi who would be glad of the safe delivery of her child and also no doubt desperately sad for the separation as well.

The sand dunes of their lives and of mine, constantly shifting and moving, taking us further on in new paths, the wind blowing away the tracks of what has gone before. The roller coaster of traversing the ups and downs; the hidden depths and spaces that the dunes offer as you ride them on safari. A safari I have learnt is from Swahili meaning overland journey and is also from Arabic safarīya, meaning from safara to travel. A safari of this outer kind – and overland journey truly came together with the inward journey of pilgrimage in the last moments of my travels.

My 30 days are now at an end with last few days being at home. I unpack, wash my clothes, distribute some gifts, reconnect with those I love, send messages of thanks and support along the way, recast my net and give gratitude for both safari  and pilgrimage – the overland and inward journey of this time.

Sand dune Safari