Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tourist, Pilgrim

I left for Spain about 3 weeks early, in order to see more of the country than our pilgrimage route will allow. I started in Madrid, then Avila, then off to Morocco for a few days, then to Toledo, and wound up in Barcelona, my last stop before meeting Marty to begin the long walk. My fiance has been my companion for this part of the trip, and he'll head home before the pilgrimage. He and I have been relentless tourists, up early, out the door and on the road all day, unless we've been on a train heading to the next launch site.

Pilgrimage and tourism are two modes of attentive travel, and of course tourism is the standard anti-type of pilgrims. Many pilgrims--myself included!-- have been known to sniff at "pilgrimages" that resemble tourism more than pilgrimage. Now having been doing the tourist thing for the longest stretch ever in my life, a few preliminary thoughts on the differences.

Tourists, most fundamentally, I think, seek "experience glut." As tourists, we wanted to see all of the "most important" spots in all the cities we went to. In Fez we wandered the medina, allowing ourselves to enjoy a hamman (combination sauna and vigorous scrub,) and be convinced by vendors to come into this shop, then that shop, then the next. We took hundreds of photos that we'll sort out later, in order to recall and put order into our travels. The hallmark identifier of the tourist is the camera, especially the nearly omnivorous digital camera (1200+ photos and we still have 3/4 of our camera's storage capacity left!!) We walked slowly through many churches, synagogues and mosques (none of the mosques in use would let Christians in, of course, but ruined or rebuilt mosques can be entered.) It isn't exactly that we didn't allow ourselves to be touched by what we saw--indeed, several of the sights/sites we visited were deeply moving. Seeing autograph manuscripts of Teresa of Avila, for example, or the wild wind-etched rock formations that will always signal Montserrat for me, were touching, and required a slower appreciation, but much, and I suspect most, of that appreciation will happen later, as I reflect and express what caught my eye in the moment. The tourist uses her eyes.

The pilgrim uses her ears. One traditional symbol of pilgrims is the clamshell. Look at one sideways, and it looks vaguely ear-like. The gentle curve invites an appreciation of the pilgrimage as process, a development in the moment. Pilgrimage is a process of allowing the experience to unfold as a clamshell curves, from the thick tight whorl at its base to the slender outer wave of the edge. Pilgimage isn't something that is engaged and mostly unpacked later, but must--if it is to accomplish its end--occur in that space and time, in the same way that a retreat is something of its own moment. Of course there is later reflection, and a different kind of appropriation of pilgrimage also, as of tourism, but the heart of pilgrimage isn't "I've been there," but something closer to "there, I WAS..."

This is something that happens on a retreats, of course, at least those retreats in which both the retreatant and God show up at the same time. I recall once leaving morning prayer and seeing a large garden slug on a wooden railing. I nearly wept at the beauty of the slug's eyes, waving gently on the ends of their stalks. Who knew? A tourist might photograph such a slug, if it were novel enough to catch one's eye. But a pilgrim weeps.

Perhaps pilgrims walk in order to facilitate the slowing down. Ignatius' trek to Monserrat, where he lay down his arms and redirected his focus forever, I now know, was a long winding road up a mountain that would have been a grueling trip on a mule. He pilgrimed himself there, and became a permanent pilgrim--for the rest of his life he signed much of his correspondence "the poor pilgrim." We got there on an air-conditioned bus, had a strict time limit, were instructed as to where the gift shop was, and where to stand in line to touch the Black Madonna if we wanted to. The guide informed us that Ignatius had been there, "running away or something." Yup. Something. Rather, someone.

Attentive tourists have their worlds expanded in delightful and humbling ways. Attentive pilgrims never know exactly what will become of them as they walk.

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