Thursday, August 19, 2010

Back home again

Rapid transitions in my life have kept me from this blog--indeed, away from very much of what could be called contemplation at all. Blogging, at least on a blog like this, involves small snapshots of contemplation.

In the hectic meantime, among my other endeavors was that I became again, for a time, a tourist. I wandered various towns in Italy, marveling again at how isolated tourists are, while pilgrims form connections based in common need. Tourists eschew need for a more powerful stance of unneedful freedom. Of course it is an illusion, one based on the tourist's emphasis of difference rather than commonality in the endeavor. Tourists don't go to new places to see what we've always seen, but rather to see what's new--we lead with our differences. Pilgrims lead with, or, if the pilgrimage attains its end, come to appreciate, commonality instead. Commonalty is a step away from community, but commonality can make the pilgrim a better member of his or her community upon return. Pilgrims return different, but more deeply cognizant of the mutual need that is the basis of true community. Tourism is toxic if that sense of difference and unneedful freedom take root deeply. At its extreme lies elitism and entitlement. The opposite vice is parochialism and a different elitism.

I found this lion somewhere in Rome, and was struck by its insouciance. The sculptor caught something of feline poise--cats relax better than anybody, and I'm convinced it's because they also are good at total coiled-spring muscular concentration and its release in the attack.

Pilgrims, perhaps, become good at being on the road--which should make us better at staying put. The skills of pilgrimage we've talked about here are also valuable askeses for life generally. Carry what sets you free. Know that your companions are essential, not accidental. Find grace in tiredness as well as in the strength you develop, since, as the Franciscans say, all is gift. Cherish small things like a good sandwich or cool water. Pilgrimage is, ultimately, about being able to rest well as much as it is about being able to be free on the road.

There's a catch. Pilgrims--at least this pilgrim--can never be completely content staying put. Nor completely content on the road all the time. Like the lion good at relaxing because good at hunting, a pilgrim is a creature who might knows that freedom is practiced both on the road and in the staying put, each feeds the other, and each is a necessity for freedom that's not merely the illusory unneedfulness of the tourist.

1 comment:

  1. I like your emphasis on these movements that seem to oppose one another: relaxing and attacking, moving and staying put. You suggest that one needs the other to be more fully itself. Being a pilgrim certainly taught me how to settle deeply in one place. And settling deeply makes me eager to be on the road.

    They're antipodal -- or at least antiphonal -- motions, each need the other to be more fully itself. A great metaphor for marriage or partnership! Would there be antiphonal virtues as well?