Is a retreat a pilgrimage? What about the reverse? Is a pilgrimage a retreat? They can be. They can also not be. Is a road trip a pilgrimage?
For a long time, I assumed that pilgrimage meant spiritual and/or religious. In looking back over my more focused travels, I’ve taken historical pilgrimages, writing pilgrimages, and nature ones. I never looked at them that way before. Everywhere I went in those instances (an in many others) always included writing. Notebooks came with me. Notebooks, journals, and my camera. Now, I will sometimes bring a sketchbook, like this past weekend retreat, but as opposed to the notebooks which is second nature I have to be conscious of packing a sketchbook and colored pencils. Drawing will never feel second nature to me, but it is something that doesn’t intimidate me as much as it used to.
While I’ve been writing this, I have come to the realization that a pilgrimage can sometimes include a retreat, but they are two different things.
A retreat is contemplative; an introspection or a reaching for something. It’s thought provoking and creativity flowing, inspirational, looking for something or exploring something found on a different retreat or pilgrimage.
For me the pilgrimages I’ve taken were given different names: road trips, vacations, traveling, but in each one I’ve discovered something about myself, whether it was a confidence, an independence, a spiritual revelation, a feeling, all of which, whether I knew it or not brought me closer to myself and closer to G-d.
My most recent pilgrimage was last fall to the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs. That was an all day wandering in the cold, the mist, the damp, and yet still the wonderful.
When my depression was at its worst, I would drive the thirty minutes to waterfalls that I found soothing. No matter what the temperature, just standing there, leaning against the rail, hearing the rush and crash of water, feeling the cool air on my face, sometimes feeling the mist on my skin. I wouldn’t stay more than half an hour, more often only ten or fifteen minutes, and still, it was a pilgrimage. I went seeking, and left finding despite not always having the words to describe what it was that I’ve found.
This last weekend retreat was less seeking as much as clearing the cobwebs and being open to the creativity and inspiration that would come in the retreat center’s environment and I think I might be able to pull myself back there and feel that inspiration again. That’s the beauty of many of these retreats and pilgrimages – the ability to return in my mind’s eye through mindfulness and meditation; contemplation and prayer.
Lent is one of those times in the liturgical year that we have the time for this introspection and contemplation without the formality of a pilgrimage and/or retreat. Lent is in itself both a retreat and a pilgrimage.
Begin with a fast, giving up something, along the way taking on others, and ending with the feast of the resurrection on Easter. I’ve been told that the three things to follow during Lent: prayer, penance, and almsgiving.
I actually have trouble with all three of those things. I never know if I’m doing it right. Is my right way good enough? I get wound up with how I’m perceived, my anxiety gets pulled into my newness as a Catholic and I wonder if everyone’s watching me when of course they’re not. I prayed before I was Catholic, in my own way, and I’m still not sure if it was the right way. I’m terrible at confession. I don’t know what to say, I don’t know how to say it. The process is more stressful than the actual confession. And almsgiving – – – what to give, who to give it to, how to give without seeming braggy. I’m not sure if Lent is supposed to be this stressful.
We’re more than halfway through and I’m not sure that I’m where I want to be at this moment in Lent. We’re not quite through half of this week, and I have too much to write and post and too little time and energy to plan it and write it and set the tone for the rest of the next two weeks.
After Lent and Easter, there are still writing classes, year of mercy prayers, contemplation and meditation, and of course, reflecting on my fifty years, a milestone that I’m not sure how I feel about.
As much as I feel I am doing in my writing and my website, I still feel that there is so much more to concentrate on. The retreats with Brother Mickey McGrath lend themselves to me to be more visual. As an artist, all of his talks and quotations and Scripture and Saints are visually presented. In and of themselves, they encourage. me to be more visually mindful. At the moment, I’m picturing a compass face with the four directions leading my creative self and the spiritual self in the same direction. There’s another piece forming on that right now, pictures included.
It seems that this entire season is punctuated with time will tell, and it will, won’t it?
I’m reminded of when I left my first job in my new home. My son was a baby and I thought I was making the right choice. The fact that I hadn’t came much later, but in leaving one place I was able to keep my work friends. We are still friends today, some seventeen years later. When I left there was a collection taken up, and they gave me a gift: a wristwatch. In the center of the watch was a picture of Winnie-the-Pooh, wearing a backpack, ready for his new adventures beyond the Hundred Acre Woods, and I wore that until the strap broke, the replaced it and wore it again until the next strap broke when it went into a jewelry box, where it remains.
Looking at it on a minutely basis, I was reminded that I was on a journey. Pooh was there every step of the way, every minute that ticked by, every step that I took on this new path.
There have been several more new and newer paths since then and I’ve had several talisman along the way, but none more appealing than that virtual rucksack I wear on my journeys, this Lent being the most recent.