Before my journey to Iona, I’ll spend time traveling with my husband, David. Our trip together will celebrate being a couple for forty years– thirty-nine of those married. When I take the train from Edinburgh west to Oban, he’ll head to the airport for his flight home. In a way, I’ll be packing for two trips; what we’ll need for cities and day tours, and what I’ll require for the changing weather of the Hebrides. From reading travel blogs, researching average temps and rainfall, and talking to people, the advice I’ve received is twofold: wear layers and pack light.
One of the goals of a pilgrim is to travel light. Pilgrimage is a metaphor for life—we don’t want to carry things that weigh us down. I’ve certainly been guilty of packing too much on many of my previous journeys. Sometimes that’s made me more tired and frazzled—trying to keep up with so many items, cluttering my mind and my travel space. This has been true in my daily life when I’ve taken on too much and eventually felt it was a heavy burden.
I want to be more intentional this time and thoughtfully choose what I’ll carry. In reading Christine Valters Paintner’s The Soul of a Pilgrim, she points out that in the preparation for pilgrimage there is much letting go that needs to happen. This is true for choices about tangible items we pack as well as attitudes, beliefs, expectations, and stories we tell ourselves about the journey. It’s easier to identify our patterns of packing too many clothes than our attitudes we cram into hidden pockets.
Part of my preparation will be self-searching to discover what those attitudes might be. I know that because of my strong imagination, I sometimes think I know more about a place than I do. My tendency is to be so excited about an upcoming trip that I overlook the inevitable travel challenges. Or I could be disappointed because what I’ve seen in movies, read in books, or in posts on social media looks better than what I experience. It’s hard to go on a milestone trip without high expectations.
When we set off on a pilgrimage, we don’t know what we’ll discover. While the first portion of my trip will not be solo, it’ll be with David, it will be part of the pilgrimage, too. For many years, a symbol that has been used to represent the pilgrim’s journey is the scallop shell. In ancient cultures, these shells had practical uses for the traveler as a drinking cup or bowl. The shell is a rich symbol with its grooves that represent different journeys we take but we all come to the same place. David and I will be journeying together to a new place with new experiences, then my journey will continue on to Iona. When we return to North Carolina, we’ll have a new awareness of what home really means. In pilgrimage, we’re called away and then return to realize that all the while we were traveling to our interior home, which was with us all the time.
To my altar with the Celtic cross, I’ll add a scallop shell. It will remind me of this journey and what I discover along the way and what I’ll find when I return home.
How about you?
What items do you need to let go of, tangible and intangible, on your present journey?
What steps can you take toward making your burden light?
How is the scallop shell a symbol for your pilgrimage?