Sunday, August 30, 2009

Westward Bound!

Pamplona is a city famous for two paths: where the bulls run, and where the pilgrims go--though, mercifully, not at the same time. Today as part of our pre-pilgrimage sabbath, Marty and I walked the bull trail from the edge of the city down the plaza del toros, and we scoped out the trail we'll walk tomorrow morning as we head west.
Marty and I have the somewhat giddy attitude of people who don't yet know what the trail will ask of us, require of us, or take from us. At least, I imagine that the several books I carry will begin to seem less like a minimum than like a luxury of items that cause too much back-ache to be carried. Now, I want to know that I have them. But tomorrow will they feel like pointless over-exertion?
I suspect that's one thing pilgrimage invites from it practitioners. How many shirts do you need? How many socks? How much paper, how many books? Every item in the pack is a burden for each step, and if the trail becomes difficult, we'll be reminded of how our possessions really do possess us.
Of course, this is true of everything we own. Our possessions have a claim on us, of stewardship at least, and at most become a burden of varying onerousness. To carry possessions lightly, and to be aware that they extract a cost as well as offer a benefit, is a fairly facile truism of spiritual life, just as it is a fairly facile truism that refusal to forgive is a burden for the one who refuses. What we own, we carry. So I start this pilgrimage with a facile observation while gazing at my over-stuffed pack. I know there's nothing in there I can't jettison--but I'll discover in the next few days what I'll need in order to be the kind of pilgrim I can be. I expect I'll still have some books with me at the end, just as I'll still have shirts, socks. Maybe fewer of everything.
Because it is also true that the fact of having things, carrying them, being burdened by them, is part of what it means to be human, to be incarnate. I have feet--need boots, therefore socks. The fact that I carry a pack is a statement that humans do not and cannot float through the world as though we had no bodies, no basic needs to be dealt with. The art of pilgriming includes, perhaps, the art of recognizing how to gracefully minimize the excess, in the way that an artist sketches an image with economy of line. To carry too little fails to realistically acknowledge that we need stuff. To carry too much is a tradeoff of degree--do I gain more from carrying this, or from leaving it and thus realizing that it wasn't a need at all? Over-burden distracts--but so does not accounting for the necessary minimal requisites of being a person on the road.
We also carry questions of varying onerousness. I don't think I know yet entirely what the questions of my pilgrimage will be. One, for certain, is of the nature of freedom, its invitation, its contours. Not just the freedom from (of "can I get by with only two shirts? Which of the others will I throw away?") but a freedom for (of the kind of "what lightness of life do I need to be available, truly available, for the life to which God calls me?") Freedom, perhaps, inheres in the balance of carrying what one needs with grace, and not over-packing with that is better not carried. What will be left in my pack? I suspect, in the end, what will be left in this metaphysical pack are the ones I love most--those with whom the burdens of the rest of the trip through life is shared. One recognizes grace by the freedom it brings. Freedom FOR.
I know already I am helped to carry by many others--a monk who asked to be placed "in our rucksack" on the trail, and many others who pray for us, wonder about us, cheer for us. They enable our freedom FOR. Most basically, freedom for Grace.
At the very least, we're not running ahead of bulls...

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