Friday, July 17, 2009

Why Sweat?

One of the questions that has interested me in thinking about pilgrimage (and in the Kili climb,) is this: what's the connection between physical effort and even the arduousness of that effort, and the spiritual work of pilgrimage? Marty speaks of the body mentoring the spirit, showing it what it can do, or inviting it to extend itself in new ways. (Marty--say more about this?) I've wondered if in part the body merely distracts the mind, allowing the "real" work of pilgrimage to percolate under the surface. If I set myself out on pilgrimage, I begin with a spiritual as well as a physical aim. But the physical aim requires constant attention--step, now step, now step, now scramble over rock, stop to drink, now step again, and step. As a parallel, when I make an 8-day retreat, it usually takes me at least a day or two to quiet down the "monkey mind," the continual chatter of ideas and general busy-ness that is the state of my mind most days. The work of the retreat starts when the chatter subsides, but the benefit of the retreat includes the FACT of quieting the noise to enter silence. I wonder if the walking quiets the chatter of the body AND the mind, by giving them something to do that is simple and repetitive enough to allow deeper prayer--conscious or unconscious--to begin. This is a parallel to the fingering of rosary beads, or perhaps the practice of some who like to exercise before prayer, to settle the body. Muscles content, the mind can pray.
Lisa Dahill, professor of worship and spirituality at Trinity Seminary in Ohio, suggests a third relationship of body to spirit on pilgrimage. The step, now step, now step is a way of keeping the pilgrim focused in the present--the "now" is as significant as the "step." Likewise rosary beads, or the specific tasks of a student in service learning, or the repetition of a mantra/word in meditation. For monks, perhaps, the chanting of the office, the same 150 psalms over and over again, starting anew every week for one's entire life, has the same function. Now we use this antiphon, now we chant this psalm, now I stay on key and in synch with my brothers or sisters.
In sum, it seems obvious to me that the physical and the spiritual are deeply connected in pilgrimage. Where the physical is absent or downplayed, something crucial is lacking AS pilgrimage. It's connected to the fact of our incarnation. But, exactly, how?

1 comment:

  1. I love the graphic! And the question you raise. I've been musing on similarities and differences between service learning, tourism, and pilgrimage. You're adding exercize to the mix! Using "the body to mentor the soul" is not my expression, but Peter Brown's THE BODY AND SOCIETY (Columbia, 1988). He's looking at ascetic movements in earliest Christianity. It's a misconception to think these devalued the body, subjecting it to the soul's direction. Instead, he finds evidence that ascetics valued the body as a concrete anchor for the soul's peregrinations. Instead of being disciplined by the soul, the body "mentored" it, tethering it to what is real. And of course "peregrinus" is the Latin word for "pilgrim."
    How does all this tie to incarnation? Christians confess Jesus is fully human, fully divine, but tend to have a practicing docetism, downplaying his humanity. It mattered -- and probably made a positive contribution to his life.
    But we'll know this -- in our bones -- along the way. Marty