Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pilgrimage to -- Pittsburgh?

Pittsburgh in not on any list of pilgrimage sites; it claims no relics or special miracles. In mid-February, it's simply another city whose rivers no longer bring busy traffic. The steel mills are silent, the streets tired and empty. And it's full of grimy, slushy snow.

Yet, pilgrimage brings us here, for the Lilly Endowment, source of our pilgrimage grant, has gathered its scattered scholars and fellows here to discuss their projects for a kind of mid-course correction.

There are other elements of pilgrimage in Pittsburgh. On the Camino we would arrange to meet up with Eric the Lame or Sophie the Jazz Dancer at the day's end for a drink, so here we gather at a meeting that has been on my calendar for months. On the Camino we'd enthusiastically share strategies for the best way to treat blisters. So here we share cross-disciplinary counsel for our work, tending each others projects the way we'd tend fellow pilgrims' feet.

In the spirit of pilgrimage, we're here simply to receive.

And for busy, productive, Type A scholars, that's no small order.

In the seasons of a scholar, I would put us all at mid-career. We're past the scramble for tenure, with several books and a score of "important" articles under out belts. Or, better, in our backpacks. We've raised kids (at least some of us!), paid mortgages, served as administrators, contributed to our various guilds, and shaped the discipline.

In short, we're settled. And now it's time to ask the question: what have we settled for? It's the question of vocation, as Frederick Buechner put it, where do you own deepest longings meet the world's greatest needs?

I see a lot of the world in this room. We bring Spain, El Salvador, Mexico, along with questions of solidarity, immigration, globalization. Others bring Madagascar and its practices of healing, the Congo and its carnage, the Sudan and tribal warfare. And more than even before at a scholarly conference, I notice that people are working not simply across the centuries, but around the world.

Where will we meet that world's need? I'm eager to learn.

Yes, Lisa is here. And yes, we've been walking. We walked the bridges over Pittsburgh's three rivers, the Allegheny, the Ohio, and the Monongahela.

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