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A Journey of the Heart

When I heard about a ZOOM Pilgrimage to Assisi, I almost spit out my coffee. In disdain. A ZOOM Pilgrimage seemed an oxymoron of the highest order. Nothing could compare to being physically present in Assisi. Nothing could come close to a real Shalem Pilgrimage. After all, on a Newfoundland Pilgrimage, I kissed a cod to become accepted as a true Newfoundlander. In Lindisfarne, the North Sea wind whipped my hair across my face. In Assisi, the silence of the Laverna caves pierced my flesh. Shalem Pilgrimages have afforded me some of the most memorable and prayerful moments in my life.

A ZOOM Pilgrimage seemed blasphemous. Yet somehow, I couldn’t ignore the niggling of the Holy Spirit to rethink my disdain. The idea of revisiting the land of Saint Francis and Saint Clare tugged at my spirit and so in the way that often happens, I gave into the inexplicable nudge and signed up for the ZOOM Pilgrimage.

And the experience was glorious. Margaret Benefiel and Chuck McCorkle and Ken Haase combined their skills and gifts and capacious spirits to bring us the wide world of Assisi. The schedule was fluid, not forced. Margaret and Chuck did not cram every waking hour with busyness. Instead, they set a space that allowed growth and rest and peace and enjoyment of others and of God. Margaret said she’s come to think of the ZOOM Gallery View as a stained-glass window. That image is perfect for our weeklong time together.

We prayed Vespers with the Poor Clares. We walked the streets of Assisi via a video that placed us right on the sidewalks and alleys. We heard the musical tones of the Italian language as Assisi pedestrians chatted. Chuck walked us through Giotto’s frescoes in the Basilica of Saint Francis, allowing us simultaneously to learn and to meditate.

Perhaps most importantly, we formed a community, in the way that is Shalem. We were some 19 pilgrims from Canada and Singapore and Ohio and Maryland and Texas. One pilgrim was en route to a family wedding. One couple flew from Portland Oregon to Portland Maine during the pilgrimage. One pilgrim fractured a foot during our time together. Another got leveled by vertigo. However, we each stayed connected to the whole, throughout, the too-short week.

We worked with the concept of the labyrinth. Chuck pointed out that a labyrinth is nothing until one steps into it. Much the same can be said for a Pilgrimage. More than anything a Pilgrimage is a journey of the heart, a way to feed our yearning for God, for intimacy with our Creator. This ZOOM journey filled our spirits and increased our love. Many of us have formed pilgrim friendships that will endure.

Margaret calls the ZOOM Gallery View a stained-glass window. Abundant and radiant light shimmered through the window of this Assisi Pilgrimage. On our shared journey to holiness, I reveled in the company of my fellow pilgrims. We were not ZOOM pilgrims. We were pilgrims. Our beloved, unfettered, and wild Holy Spirit met us where we were and carried us beyond where I ever imagined we might go.

Editor’s note: Shalem is offering another virtual pilgrimage, Walking the Ramparts: A Pilgrimage with Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, June 25- July 1, 2021.  There is still space available if you’d like to join us!  To get an idea of what this pilgrimage will be like, join the free Taste and See mini retreat on May 23, 12-2pm ET by signing up here.

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