Co-author, Wayne Purnitun, are celebrating the completion of the preliminary draft of our book (Stirring Waters:Wrestling with Faith in a Wrestless World) and are departing for our next adventure—a pilgrimage to Nova Scotia.
I have done a lot of traveling since I retired at the end of 1997—mostly by car, with a plane trip or two sprinkled in. I’ve been to Nebraska, Missouri, Colorado, California, North and South Dakota, Florida, Minnesota, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, and North Carolina. In every case I was going to some specific destination in order that I might see some particular people or do some specific things. Travel is about destination and what’s there. Pilgrimage is different—no destination but, instead, a journey.
So, if pilgrimage is about not focusing on a destination, why Nova Scotia?
As Wayne and I, as intended fellow pilgrims, began our discussions and planning we Googled “pilgrimage travel.” We discovered a lot of tour agencies that were willing to plan a trip to traditional destinations such as Mecca, Lourdes, El camino de Santiago, or many, many more. This is not what interested us. Before we could narrow down exactly what we were looking for, Nova Scotia seemed to offer itself as a possibility. As we investigated those possibilities, we began to sense a nudge, that became an insistence, that became a call.
Nova Scotia calling—a Canadian maritime province with a strong Scottish & Gaelic history and culture. Moreover, prior to the arrival of any European explorers or settlers, a thriving culture of the Mi’kmaq, a First Nations people. Add to that the history of French settlement and Nova Scotia is a living history of the interaction of various cultures.
Many of the Scots who settled in Nova Scotia were victims of the Highland Clearances. Divested of their land and their livelihood, they sought a new start in a new land—a New Scotland (Nova Scotia). The British removed the French (Acadian Expulsion) from much of the land they had occupied. Part of that story is told in Longfellow’s Evangeline.
As a beginning, our pilgrimage is about engaging these people and hearing their stories—attempting to understand, to some degree, why they are where they are and how they inhabit their world. Of course, if this is all we do, it will be more a research project rather than pilgrimage.
As we listen to their stories, we can’t help but explore our own stories. How do I inhabit my world? How do I engage those who are Other (different from me)? How do I interact with the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable?
Nova Scotia also mean going away from urban living—away from the conveniences, away from the distraction, away from the threats. Instead, this pilgrimage will be about engaging people—the hosts at our bed & breakfast accomodations, the local people at various Ceilidhs (Gaelic music celebrations), the Mi’kMaq people, and, of course, the docents at a couple of national historical sites.
Pilgrimage means more than just taking in the world around me. Pilgrimage means reflecting, recalling—rehearsing who I am, who is around me, and what I am encountering at the present. And it means doing that in community—in the community I bring with me (my fellow pilgrim) and in the communities I encounter along the way.
Pilgrimage is not about driving lickety-split or running at top speed to get from one place to the next. Instead, pilgrimage is about sauntering. Thoreau speaks of sauntering as listening to an internal Peter the Hermit urging us to engage the Holy Land. Such sauntering is walking like a camel, which ruminates as it walks. Pilgrimage is about journeying while musing about the Holy Land upon which you are traversing and the people who inhabit that land. Nova Scotia beckons as a place for Holy Land sauntering.
I am not taking my laptop to Nova Scotia, only my journal. We have agreed that part of each day will be spent, by each of us, writing in our journals—reflecting on our experiences and their implications for our respective spiritual journeys.
For the month of July (which includes our Nova Scotia pilgrimage) I will be sharing observations from a previous pilgrimage—a 1993 trip to the Holy Land. I wasn’t aware, at the time, that it was a pilgrimage; but it was. I didn’t have a laptop at that time. I didn’t take a camera. I did take my journal and I wrote about my experiences—inner and outer. Those I will share with you about every third day. By the end of July, I hope to have transcribed my journals and prepared those observations for sharing on this blog. Stay tuned!