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Fill Your Heart with Joy: The Journey of Pilgrimage at Home

This article is by Chuck McCorkle, Jackson Droney, and Margaret Benefiel

A pilgrimage is a journey, of experience if not of geography, into new and seemingly uncharted territory. . . With vision somewhat more clear as a result of the journey, one can discover a richness within one’s own heritage which had previously been overlooked. . . [O]ur pilgrimage is taking us home. – Gerald May, Pilgrimage Home

No matter how short the distances and familiar the route you travel on a given day, you can do it as a pilgrim. . . Whether the journey is within your own backyard or takes you to the other side of the world, the potential is there for the greatest of adventures: a journey not only toward [God] but also with [God]. – Jim Forest, The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life

In this season of Epiphany, we recognize the Magi as the first pilgrims of the Christian era. Following the light of a new star in the heavens, they were led, through unfamiliar lands, to the place where it shone on a young child, and they rejoiced and were filled with great joy. This first pilgrimage can serve as a guide for us. When we suspend the activities of daily life to travel and seek out the light of the world we also will be rewarded. But how do we accomplish this when we are home in quarantine and our travels are limited?

In times of pestilence and warfare, early pilgrims were forced to find safer alternatives to travel, and many walked the labyrinth, like the one embedded in the floor of Chartres Cathedral, in symbolic pilgrimage. Unlike a maze, which is designed with deceptive turns leading nowhere, all turns in a labyrinth lead the pilgrim toward the center, toward God, allowing one to free oneself of worry and to delight in the journey.

How then might we reimagine pilgrimage during this time of COVID-19? Can we open ourselves to the movement of the spirit and imagine entering into a sacred space of beauty and deep spiritual inspiration in a journey safely close to home?

The inspirational messages of the saints that continue to resonate and inspire are certainly not confined by location. And since our options for travel remain limited, we, like early pilgrims in times of plague, have been planning safe alternatives to our in-person pilgrimages. In our other programs and activities, we are finding that virtual technologies (like Zoom) can offer creative ways to build sacred community. Large group activities help bind us together while small groups allow for more intimate sharing and discovery.

Pilgrimages provide structures and companionship which enrich and encourage personal and community journeys closer to God. We invite you on such a journey with us as we embark on a virtual pilgrimage and walk in the footsteps of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi in May and in the footsteps of Saints Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross in June.

As the stories of these saints unfold, the glorious art which echoes their lives can be explored in new and creative ways and used as inspiration for a contemplative practice based upon these images. Designated private time for journaling and reflection helps deepen the personal experience. We will support one another in making space in our lives and locations for this journey and, with the aid of labyrinthlocator.com, we can find local labyrinths to walk as part of our collective journey. We are excited and energized as we reimagine pilgrimage to meet these challenging times. There is the possibility of being filled with great joy.

Won’t you consider joining us on Zoom as we safely walk in the footsteps of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi in May and in the footsteps of Saints Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross in June?

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Margaret Benefiel, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Shalem Institute, has led or co-led ten previous pilgrimages to Italy. As a Quaker and a spiritual director, she finds great inspiration from Saints Francis and Clare. Dr. Benefiel is also a teacher and retreat leader and has served in various leadership roles in Spiritual Directors International and as the co-chair of the Christian Spirituality Program Unit of the American Academy of Religion. Dr. Benefiel is the author or co-editor of five books and numerous articles.

Jackson Droney is Shalem’s Director of Operations and Online Learning, overseeing Shalem’s finances, HR, online courses, and all the nuts and bolts that make Shalem hum. He loves discerning with others how organizations can identify and live more deeply into their purpose, and is excited to be part of organization development work at Shalem. Jackson previously served on the Shalem Board of Directors and is a graduate of Shalem’s Personal Spiritual Deepening Program and the Young Adult Life and Leadership Initiative. Prior to working at Shalem, Jackson spent several years working in federal politics, as a staffer on Capitol Hill and as a lobbyist for not-for-profit electric utilities. He holds a B.A. from Syracuse University and a Master’s degree in Human Resources Management from Georgetown University.

Chuck McCorkle, MSW has an undergraduate degree in Fine Arts and has long felt a strong spiritual connection with art and contemplative practice. In the mid 1980s, he relinquished his privileged role in the studio to follow a vocational calling to do AIDS work. In retirement, the call to service brought him to Sierra Leone to provide mental health support to an Ebola Response Team. To find balance and to feed the spirit, he has volunteered at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Phillips Collection, and the National Gallery of Art, where he is currently a docent. During his first pilgrimage to Assisi he was struck by the rich diversity of sacred space and visual art associated with Francis and Clare, all of which deepened his experience of prayerful renewal. He has collaborated with Margaret Benefiel in past workshops on prayer and forming spiritual support groups.

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Karen Foley
Karen Foley
8 months ago

I’m curious about the form this will take. Will participants “visit” the geographical locales and buildings of these saints, virtually?

Margaret Benefiel
Admin
8 months ago
Reply to  Karen Foley

Yes, we will, Karen.

Stephen J. Binz
8 months ago

I would enjoy having some specifics about these two virtual pilgrimages. How long will they last? How do I register?

Margaret Benefiel
Admin
7 months ago

They are each a week long, Stephen. Here’s the info about the pilgrimage and registration for the Assisi virtual pilgrimage: https://shalem.org/programs/pilgrimages/assisi/ Here’s the info about the pilgrimage and registration for the Teresa and John virtual pilgrimage: https://shalem.org/walking-the-ramparts-a-pilgrimage-with-teresa-of-avila-and-john-of-the-cross/