Thursday, April 16, 2009


When does a pilgrimage begin? Our Kilimanjaro pilgrimage began when we began to recognize our climb as a pilgrimage, a recognition that dawned rather slowly. Marty had brought the daily lectionary readings, I'd brought an assortment of "mountain psalms." (E.g., Ps. 15: LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy mountain? Whoever walks without blame, doing what is right, speaking truth from the heart; ....Whoever acts like this shall never be shaken.) In the lectionary's gospel readings, we found food for thought and conversation, while the mountain psalms set the context, as we climbed this "Mountain of the Lord." We were not on Mount Zion, but still--if the Lord can be found on one mountain, then surely that means that all mountains are "holy by association." This kind of thinking lies deep in the sacramental imagination: if some bread and some wine carry the presence of Christ, then all food, all drink, even all the material universe, can be seen as capable of bearing the holy. The sacramental imagination makes us mystics of matter.

We are in the progress of preparation for this new pilgrimage, one that will be pilgrimage from the start. On Kili, the nature of the climb as pilgrimage dawned on us. Here, we start with the word "pilgrimage." What will dawn on us, perhaps, is the meaning of the word pilgrimage, and what pilgrimage will mean for us.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Jakobsplatz in Augsburg, Germany

In April, 2009 I attended a conference sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation on "Bible, Theology, and the Life of the Church." As one of the planners, we looked forward to hosting an international gathering of Lutheran scholars and practitioners in a city where Luther had been summoned to meet with leaders from Rome and the Holy Roman Empire. The conference was rich fare indeed, and to digest it all I often walked the old city during breaks. During one of those walks, a friend and I stumbled upon the Jakobsplatz, literally, "St. James Place," a large plaza with a big fountain in the center. Medieval pilgrims traveling from Germany to Santiago de Compostela in Spain would refresh themselves here. They would "outfit" themselves for the journey ahead.

I thought of the preparations that Lisa and I had made for Kilimanjaro. I tried to imagine the plaza surrounded by all the outdoor shops we'd frequented in Berkeley: REI, Any Mountain, Wilderness Exchange, and of course, Peet's Coffee, as we got our gear together.

Finding the plaza was an unexpected grace -- and blessing for the journey ahead.

The Genesis of the Grant

Our project germinated on Mount Kilimanjaro in July 2008. Marty's lovely essay on our trek may be seen at her school homepage: The Kilimanjaro climb started out as a simple adventure. It was on the mountain, and even more so after the mountain, that we realized that it had been more a pilgrimage than any sort of accomplishment. We'd come back changed in a deeper way than a simple "been there, done that" can express.