Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Insights along the way: On "being" a pilgrim

People ask: when are you going to Santiago? And my immediate response is: we're already underway. As we discovered when we climbed Kilimanjaro, an important part of the trip is getting all the gear together. We were climbers -- and climbers have lists! We made sure we had everything on our various lists. And then a little extra, in case one of our fellow climbers needed it. We knew there wouldn't be an REI on the mountain.

The "gear" for pilgrimage is quite different. Indeed, it's a journey where emptiness is a virtue. Pilgrims travel light, with open hands and open hearts. Open to what, you might ask? Open to the moment. This moment tells the pilgrim where the path leads.

This week two moments have shown me the way forward. One was a conversation with Ed Peck, PhD, Director of the Ignatian Colleagues Program, which runs out of John Carroll University in Cleveland ( Colleagues is an immersion program for administrators, faculty, and staff, supported by, but not limited to, Jesuit institutions of higher education. Peck has thought a lot about pilgrimage and immersion, and he distinguishes it sharply from service learning. Service learning sends people into another country to "do" something, build a school or dig a well. Immersion sends people into another country to simply "be" with the people there. "You're not there to give; you're there to receive," he observed.

Of course, that "being" may lead to "doing," as Lisa points out in her post below. But the first move is to be there, in simple solidarity. And the affective expressions of solidarity are love of the people, gratitude for their hospitality -- and anger at the systemic injustices that lead to poverty. Colleagues offers a careful and thorough Ignatian pedagogy to help people experience, reflect, feel, and then put those feelings into action in their institutions at home.

A second moment came in a conversation with Orv Gingerich, Director of Augsburg College's signature Center for Global Education in Minneapolis ( Like the Colleagues program, CGE sponsors global immersions, only these involve students. And like Peck, Gingerich is quick to separate these immersions from mission trips or service learning projects: "We encourage people to go as receivers. We want to disabuse them of the idea they have something to offer. We want them to simply receive."

Not surprising that these two programs collaborate, sharing sites and personnel in their immersion programs. These two conversations clarified several things for me, as I prepare for our journey. But equally, they show me I'm already on the way.

I'm grateful to have such wise and gracious companions.
And yes, that's an icon of Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus -- and fellow pilgrim.

1 comment:

  1. I got caught on Orv Gingerich's comment, "We encourage people to go as receivers. We want to disabuse them of the idea they have something to offer. We want them to simply receive." My husband and I are both looking for jobs--him after a layoff, me trying to re-enter the "job market" after many years spent raising my kids. I can't speak for my spouse, but for me the job search has been a rather disheartening experience of endlessly trying to prove that I actually do have something to offer (and, frankly, most days I find that I have to convince myself as well!) So the idea of pilgrimage sounds both heavenly and incredibly scary at the same time. I look forward to following you along your way.